Er­land Joseph­son

The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries - NATHALIE ROTH­SCHILD

THE SWEDISH-JEWISH ac­tor, di­rec­tor and writer Er­land Joseph­son, who col­lab­o­rated with Ing­mar Bergman on more than 40 films, was­born into a fam­ily of writ­ers and artists, and was re­garded in Swe­den as a doyen of in­tel­lec­tual life. His fa­ther, Gun­nar Joseph­son, was the pres­i­dent of the Swedish Mo­saic Com­mu­nity in the 1930s. Gun­nar Joseph­son ran a book­store that be­came a gath­er­ing spot for Stock­holm’s intelligentsia, in­clud­ing Ing­mar Bergman.

Joseph­son’s col­lab­o­ra­tion and friend­ship with Bergman be­gan in 1940. A 16-year-old ama­teur ac­tor, he was cast as An­to­nio in Bergman’s pro­duc­tion of The Mer­chant of Venice. Bergman was 21. Six years later, Joseph­son landed his first film role, a small part in Bergman’s sec­ond fea­ture, It Rains on Our Love.

It was nearly 30 years be­fore Joseph­son achieved in­ter­na­tional star­dom,with the role of Jo­han in Bergman’s Scenes from a Mar­riage, costar­ring with Liv Ull­man. Orig­i­nally broad­cast as a six-part TV se­ries, the tale of a seem­ingly ideal, but in re­al­ity tu­mul­tuous mar­riage was a Swedish sen­sa­tion that saw a surge in de­mand for mar­riage coun­selling ser­vices. In 2003, Joseph­son and Ull­man co-starred in Bergman’s final film, Sara­band, its se­quel.

An­other ac­claimed role was Joseph- son’s por­trayal of the mys­ti­cal Jewish an­tiques dealer, Isak Ja­cobi, in Bergman’s 1982 Fanny and Alexan­der. By then, he had won wider in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion af­ter star­ring as Friedrich Ni­et­zsche in Ital­ian di­rec­tor Lil­ian Ca­vani’s 1977 film, Be­yond Good and Evil. He con­tin­ued work­ing in in­ter­na­tional cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, ap­pear­ing in films by such ac­claimed di­rec­tors as An­drei Tarkovsky, Philip Kaufman and Peter Green­away.

Two years ago Joseph­son spoke on Swedish public ra­dio about his dual iden­tity as a Jew and a Swede. “It’s not a con­flict for me”, he said. “It doesn’t en­croach on my Swedish­ness. I think that I com­mit my­self to Jewish­ness.” Although he did not en­gage in “re­li­gious rit­u­als,” he de­scribed his “big mouth, man­ner­ism and sense of irony” as ex­pres­sions of his Jewish­ness. “In my fam­ily”, Joseph­son con­tin­ued, “you were sup­posed to be Swedish but not to deny your Jewish iden­tity.”

The Joseph­sons are one of the old­est Jewish fam­i­lies in Swe­den. Their his­tory and con­tri­bu­tion to Swedish cul­ture over the past 200 years fea­ture in a cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion at the Jewish Mu­seum in Stock­holm. The ex­hi­bi­tion notes ex­plain that the Joseph­sons’ lives are “in­ti­mately in­ter­laced with Swe­den’s cul­tural de­vel­op­ment and his­tory.” Er­land Joseph­son was the theatre’s di­rec­tor be­tween 1966 and 1975.

His” bril­liant, typ­i­cally Jewish and dis­arm­ing sense of hu­mour” was posthu­mously praised in the Swedish me­dia by his long-time friend, ac­tor Börje Ahlsted, who de­scribed his in­tel- ligence cou­pled with the hu­mour as un­beat­able. “I re­mem­ber Er­land once say­ing: ‘the scenog­ra­phers love me be­cause I’m so bow-legged that when I stand on stage the au­di­ence can see the dé­cor’”, said Ahlsted.

Joseph­son vis­ited Is­rael sev­eral times, re­cently telling a lo­cal pa­per that he saw the Jewish state as a mag­nif­i­cent project that had com­pletely de­te­ri­o­rated. On the Is­raeli-pales­tinian con­flict he felt peo­ple to­day “had com­pletely for­got­ten why Is­rael ex­ists”.

Apart from act­ing, Joseph­son wrote 40 books and dra­mas. His fourth novel, pub­lished in 1957, A Story About Mr Sil­ber­stein, is about a Holo­caust sur­vivor and the roots of anti-semitism. It was his first book to be trans­lated into English.

Bergman used to call Joseph­son his “favourite Jew”, a joke dat­ing from Ing­mar’s pro­duc­tion of The Gold­berg Vari­a­tions. “The rabbi came over to help us in­ter­pret cer­tain things,” Joseph­son re­called. “He was so charm­ing that in the end nearly all the women at the theatre wanted to con­vert to Ju­daism, and Ing­mar asked if he could be­come an hon­orary Jew. ”

Joseph­son is sur­vived by his wife, the play­wright Ulla Åberg, and five chil­dren.

Er­land Joseph­son with Liv Ullmann in Bergman’s film Cries and Whis­pers

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