best film:  Persona. Persona does not feature Gunnar Björnstrand’s best performance by a long stretch – from an acting standpoint Persona is all Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann – and frankly, Björnstrand’s Mr. Vogler character is not overly memorable. Of the many films with the great Swedish master Ingmar Bergman, Björnstrand appears in five masterpieces (The Seventh Seal, Winter Light, the aforementioned Persona, Autumn Sonata, and Fanny and Alexander). So, going beyond his rather pedestrian contributions to Persona, Björnstrand is center stage in Winter Light, and his contribution to The Seventh Seal is rather significant as well.


best performance:  Winter Light is the one undisputable time he had the full lead in a Bergman film – and Gunnar Björnstrand did not squander the opportunity.  Pastor Tomas Ericsson is one of cinema’s finest characters and one of the best performances in a Bergman film. Thomas Ericsson verbally abuses the woman who loves him and does not exactly rescue Max von Sydow’s poor character either.  Björnstrand brilliantly delivers the razor-sharp dialogue – this is a film and performances that packs a wallop. It is hard to believe all that Bergman and Björnstrand achieve here in Winter Light in just 81 short minutes.


Winter Light is easily Gunnar Björnstrand’s finest hour. His Tomas Ericsson is spiritually lost – and absolutely guts poor Märta Lundberg (played by Ingrid Thulin).


stylistic innovations/traits:   Gunnar Björnstrand often played stern figures who could come to a boil if provoked or pushed. His high-water mark work in Winter Light is a shoo-in for a slot on the top 100 male acting performances of all-time. Björnstrand did not have as many opportunities to showcase his talent as Max von Sydow and it hurts Björnstrand’s case a little that he does not have a single archiveable film outside of the work he did with Bergman. Björnstrand is twenty (20) years older than von Sydow (Björnstrand is fourteen (14) years older than Erland Josephson) and the main role that got away (Björnstrand would have been awesome) is Töre from 1960’s The Virgin Spring (which went to von Sydow of course). But – just because many of Björnstrand’s performances were in support, does not mean he did not excel in them. His work in Wild Strawberries is a prime example. It is 72-minutes before Björnstrand shows up. This role needs a strong presence and Björnstrand is pitch perfect. He is hardened and angry. He is throwing hammers like his squire in The Seventh Seal – Bergmanisms like- “It is absurd to bring children into this world…. This life sickens me.”


directors worked with:  Bergman (15) – this is actually more archiveable films together than any of the other actors in the Bergman trope – but obviously less total screen time and central roles than a Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow.


from The Seventh Seal – Gunnar Bjornstrand’s skill set is crucial to the film.  He plays the squire – and it is clear that the squire (and Bjornstrand) sees himself, and not Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), as the central figure in this story.


top five performances:

  1. Winter Light
  2. The Seventh Seal
  3. Smiles of a Summer Night
  4. Through a Glass Darkly
  5. Wild Strawberries


Smiles of a Summer Night  – Gunnar Björnstrand plays an arrogant lawyer Fredrik Egerman who mistakenly says the name of a former love in bed with his wife. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from Shakespeare is the inspiration for Ingmar Bergman here – but so is Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) as members of the upper class and their servants chase each other around (gathered in one house for much of the running time) in equal fits of lust, romance, and jealousy.


archiveable films

1952- Waiting Women
1953- Sawdust and Tinsel
1954- A Lesson in Love
1955- Dreams
1955- Smiles of a Summer Night
1957- The Seventh Seal
1957- Wild Strawberries
1958- The Magician
1961- Through a Glass Darkly
1963- Winter Light
1966- Persona
1968- Shame
1976- Face to Face
1978- Autumn Sonata
1982- Fanny and Alexander