best film:  Erland Josephson worked often with the great Swedish master Ingmar Bergman – so this category is going to be crowded with seminal works like Cries & Whispers (1973), Autumn Sonata (1978), and Fanny and Alexander (1982). Josephson does not rewrite history with his genius in these three films (none land on his top five performance list below) – but he is not a prop or wallpaper either – he is a strong, supporting influence. The next tier of Bergman classics featuring Josephson include Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and Face to Face (1976) – both with Josephson opposite Liv Ullmann. Josephson has more substantive roles here in these two films. Josephson had a remarkable second act beyond the work with Bergman – two mammoth masterpiece collaborations with Andrei Tarkovsky in the 1980s. Both Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986) are among the best films of all time. Josephson has a significant role in The Sacrifice – but his work as the character Domenico should not be overlooked in Nostalghia – which ultimately his best film. Josephson’s Domenico shows up just past the thirty (30) minute mark strolling along near the baths. He is known as a madman and always has his trusty German Shepard Zoe by his side. Oleg Yankovskiy (playing Tarkovsky’s surrogate – his character’s name is Andrei and the character’s father is a poet – like Tarkovsky) is the clear lead, and Domiziana Giordano gets a fiery monologue – but Josephson is steals some scenes, and brings a weighty presence to the character and film.


best performance:  The performance that stands atop the rest for Erland Josephson is The Sacrifice from 1986. This is a masterpiece where he does not have to share the spotlight with Liv Ullmann (and being real, it is Ullmann sharing it with Josephson and not the other way around). In Tarkovsky’s final film, Josephson gets a close-up prayer offering to God long take. Later, in the film’s last hour, he delivers a monologue of a memory to the Maria character (Guðrún Gísladóttir) that is reminiscent of Marlon Brando’s famous monologue in The Last Tango in Paris (1973).  Josephson’s shining moment in The Sacrifice is followed very tightly by his his work in Scenes from a Marriage (1973). In the 1970s, Josephson connected with Ingmar Bergman for four (4) archiveable films – more than any other decade (and they worked together at least once in every decade from the 1940s till Bergman’s death in the 2000s) and even though it was not their best film together, the best Bergman film performance of Josephson’s career came from this period in Scenes from a Marriage. Josephson plays Johan – opposite Liv Ullmann’s Marianne. The duo makes for heavenly sparring partners – resulting in a film that has earned its reputation as one of the models for marriage dramas. Few reviews of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy do not at least acknowledge the achievement of Bergman, Ullmann and Josephson’s 1973 effort (which runs just under five hours in full form).


Josephson gets hours of space to carve out and define his Johan character in Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973).


stylistic innovations/traits:  Erland Josephson is the third male actor in Bergman’s trope of Swedish players to make the list after Max von Sydow and Gunnar Björnstrand. Josephson was born in 1923 – so a few years older than von Sydow and just over a decade younger than Björnstrand. He actually connected with Bergman first (1950 is his first archiveable film and they worked together even earlier) – but the bulk of his personal best work with the Swedish auteur did not come until after von Sydow had moved on to Hollywood for the most part – or at least Josephson’s two best Bergman performances come right then from 1973 and 1976 in the wake of von Sydow’s absence. Still, Josephson was chosen by Tarkovsky to be a significant part of two of cinema’s best films in the 1980s. Bergman and Tarkovsky are two titans of cinema – and not exactly beach reads – meaning Josephson was in some of the most severe and heavy films in the art form’s history.


Josephson as Alexander in Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986). Tarkovsky’s style is different than Bergman’s approach – and he uses Josephson distinctly. Josephson is more like a model in Tarkovsky’s films ( resulting in it being a more physical performance) – and Tarkovsky does not use as many of those actor friendly close-ups (especially in Nostalghia) as the Swedish master.


directors worked with: Ingmar Bergman (11), Andrei Tarkovsky (2), Peter Greenaway (1)


Josephson opposite Ullmann (two of the three shots used on the page feature Ullmann) again in Face to Face (1976). It is no great insult to say that even in his best work (four of his best five performances) Josephson is outpaced (even if it is ever so slightly) by Ullmann. This is both a tribute to Ullmann for being one of cinema’s best actors – and a compliment to Josephson as well for coming so close to her achievement.


top five performances:

  1. The Sacrifice
  2. Scenes from a Marriage
  3. Face to Face
  4. Saraband
  5. The Passion of Anna


archiveable films:

1950- To Joy
1958- The Magician
1968- Hour of the Wolf
1969- The Passion of Anna
1972- Cries & Whispers
1973- Scenes from a Marriages
1976- Face to Face
1978- Autumn Sonata
1982- Fanny and Alexander
1983- Nostalghia
1984- After the Rehearsal
1986- The Sacrifice
1988- The Unbearable Lightness of Being
1991- Prospero’s Books
1995- Ulysses’ Gaze
2003- Saraband