In 1955, during his tenure as director of the Malmö City Theatre, Ingmar Bergman had his first experience working with the lean, towering Max von Sydow, a recent graduate from acting school whom the director had seen fit to recruit away from a troupe in nearby Helsingborg. The two never looked back: by the following year, von Sydow was shooting his first film with Bergman, anchoring the mortality parable The Seventh Seal as the disillusioned but undaunted knight Antonius Block—and setting the stage for a storied cinematic collaboration that would propel Bergman to new artistic heights, and von Sydow to international stardom.
In the above video piece, made for the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, Bergman scholar Peter Cowie takes stock of the wide range of von Sydow’s contributions to the director’s oeuvre, from the “natural authority” he exudes in such stark period pieces as The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring to the gentler touch he brought to supporting roles in contemporary dramas like Wild Strawberries and Brink of Life. But Cowie notes that it was in several of Bergman’s films of the 1960s—among them Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf, and Shame—that von Sydow was finally able to plunge into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, using his looming frame to embody a number of memorably cowering characters. As it happens, many of these performances by von Sydow reflected fears and weaknesses Bergman saw in his very own personality, going to show the fierce candor of their unparalleled creative partnership.