‘The Passion of Anna’
The final part of an informal trilogy that began with “Hour of the Wolf” and “Shame,” Ingmar Bergman’s “The Passion of Anna” casts von Sydow as a recently divorced loner who gets enmeshed in a pair of complicated relationships — one with a deceitful widow (Ullmann) who loses her husband and son in a car accident, the other with a married woman (Bibi Andersson) who lives nearby. Meanwhile, someone in their rural community has been mutilating animals. Bergman presents this disturbing juxtaposition through a semi-experimental lens, commenting on the action through voice-over narration and occasionally breaking the fourth wall altogether. At one point, von Sydow even pauses to reflect on the challenges of playing his own character.
In the first of two three-hour-plus epics from director Jan Troell, shot in close succession, von Sydow and Ullmann teamed up again as a couple from rural Sweden in the mid-1800s who are facing too many cruel harvests to feed their family, which is up to four children and counting. So they and other family members decide to emigrate to a farm in the Minnesota territory, a journey that Troell documents with painstaking ardor. Though they arrive in Minnesota by the end of the film, “The Emigrants” mostly lingers on their time in the Swedish province of Småland, where they suffer from drought and hunger, and their long passage across the Atlantic, where they’re beset by spoiled food and an outbreak of lice and disease. Troell emphasizes hardship and authenticity above all, but there’s no denying the sun-touched beauty of his images, too.
‘The New Land’
“The Emigrants” ends with the promise of a Swedish family finally arriving in the Chisago Lakes area, where the soil is rich and deep, but the miseries they face in America are equally daunting. Beyond the language and cultural barriers, their new home rests on unsettled territory, full of false promises, like the gold rush luring some out west and hostilities from the local Sioux. The cumulative impact of Troell’s two-part epic stands alongside the first two “Godfather” films as immigration stories writ large, but “The Emigrants” and “The New Land” stand alone in their austere realism. When the Sioux come calling in “The New Land,” for example, it’s treated not as a mass movement but one intimate, harrowing piece of a more comprehensive terror.
For his horror classic, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, director William Friedkin cannily seized on the religious gravitas of von Sydow’s performances in Ingmar Bergman’s film to make him the wedge between a possessed girl (Linda Blair) and the Devil incarnate. As Father Merrin, von Sydow plays an exorcist who’s essentially tasked with putting to rest an evil he inadvertently summoned on an archaeological dig, joining a younger priest in an effort to expel the demon that’s taken residence in Washington, D.C. Friedkin’s technical mastery accounts for much of the reason “The Exorcist” is held in such high esteem, but performances like von Sydow’s add a human dimension to the shocks.
‘Three Days of the Condor’
One feature of the post-Watergate political thrillers of the 1970s — like “All the President’s Men,” “The Conversation,” and “The Parallax View” — is that ordinary people are up against faceless, unaccountable, conspiratorial forces that cannot be identified or defeated. Yet von Sydow proves the exception in “Three Days of the Condor,” appearing as a fedora-donning hit man who leads a daytime massacre of a C.I.A. office that kills all but Robert Redford’s intrepid code breaker. But just because he makes himself known doesn’t mean he can be stopped: von Sydow’s calm, implacable villain makes it chillingly clear that escape is impossible.
‘Hannah and Her Sisters’
Woody Allen’s admiration for Ingmar Bergman made it an inevitability that he would cast Bergman’s favorite actor in one of his films, and he chose one of his best — a sophisticated comedy-drama about siblings whose familial bonds are strained by their love lives. Ranting about Auschwitz and the debased value of American culture, von Sydow’s aging artist has worn down his former-student-turned-lover (Barbara Hershey), who wants to leave him while she still has a shot at romance. Von Sydow’s dyspeptic intellectual speaks like an Allen mouthpiece, but he also conjures the deep hurt and rage of an older man who’s lost his fountain of youth.