Theaters have reopened in and around San Francisco, which is cause for celebration as a benchmark in our battle with the virus. I’ll raise a small glass, as I’m not quite ready to partake in group activities indoors. Another toast is in order this week to the thrill of brilliant acting, Euro-style, with career highlights of Max Von Sydow, Mads Mikkelsen and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Movie history sparkles with long-running director-actor relationships: Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, Jean Renoir and Jean Gabin, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, John Ford and John Wayne, Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro and, of course, Ingmar Bergman and Max Von Sydow. A year after the great Swedish actor’s death at 90, a mini-retrospective dazzles us with a couple Scandinavian landmarks and four of his extraordinary collaborations with Bergman, spanning The Seventh Seal (1957) to The Passion of Anna (1969).
Von Sydow’s air of taciturn, winking mystery was well-suited to Bergman’s fascination with the mask of public behavior and the intimacy of private life. The actor’s sinewy strength and sex appeal, meanwhile, amplified his director’s theme of passion, its pleasures and its price. One of cinema’s great walkers, Von Sydow could move—depending on the characer—like an athlete, a prince, a predator, or a protector.
In The Magician (1958), a gorgeous, razor-sharp tale of a 19th century illusionist compelled to give a house performance for arrogant authorities, Von Sydow haunts the screen with barely a spoken line. As the titular artist-slash-charlatan whose audience taunts and envies him, resenting the trickster even as they crave being fooled, Von Sydow simultaneously conveys respect for his craft and disgust for the spectators. It is a delicious performance by an immortal actor in a timeless film.