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Max von Sydow in Jan Troell's The Emigrants

Legendary Swedish actor Max von Sydow died in his sleep, at age 90. He was the real deal, with a career spanning seven decades; a not-so-secret weapon in Ingmar Bergman’s stable of actors who found success acting in mainstream Hollywood films as well as the European “arthouse” fare he built his name on. The headlines of many eulogies today have made mention of his roles in The Seventh Seal and The Exorcist, but my favorite von Sydow role (of the ones I’ve managed to see thus far) is his part as Karl Oskar in Jan Troell’s must-see double feature, The Emigrants and The New Land. Von Sydow and Liv Ulmann had acted in some Bergman films together, so when it came time to work on this pair of Troell films, they had their on-screen chemistry locked down. Aided in no small part by Troell’s expert-level directing and cinematography, as well as the fertile source material, The Emigrants and The New Land are the most accurate depictions of emigrant and colonial American life I’ve yet to see. I know he acted in all kinds of films, from the brilliant Winter Light (Bergman’s best, in my book) to the likes of Flash Gordon and Minority Report. But these two Troell efforts reaffirm why cinema is even worth bothering with in the first place—Max von Sydow’s nuanced acting, in which micro-expressions could speak volumes, and less was often more, has a lot to do with why they still hold up. Rest in peace.

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