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