‘Exorcist’ star, Swedish screen legend Max von Sydow dies at 90

Swedish-born actor Max Von Sydow, in Los Angeles, in 1982. (AP Photo)
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Updated 09 March 2020

‘Exorcist’ star, Swedish screen legend Max von Sydow dies at 90

  • With chiselled features and piercing blue eyes, von Sydow became a recognizable face during a career that mixed genres and languages
  • In one of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, von Sydow played the knight who has a chess game with death on a lonely beach in ‘The Seventh Seal’

PARIS: Swedish-born actor Max von Sydow, whose seven-decade career saw him go from starring in iconic art-house movies by Ingmar Bergman to appearing in English-language hits including “The Exorcist” and “Game of Thrones,” has died in France aged 90, his family said.
“It is with a broken heart and with infinite sadness that we have the extreme pain of announcing the departure of Max von Sydow” on Sunday, said a statement sent to AFP.
Von Sydow took French citizenship in 2002 and renounced his Swedish nationality, but remains fondly remembered in his homeland.
With chiselled features and piercing blue eyes, von Sydow became a recognizable face during a career that mixed genres and languages and saw him play vulnerable heroes and evil villains.
“He was one of the world’s greatest actors,” said the former president of the Cannes film festival Gilles Jacob.
“He could play troubling roles but Max had a delicacy and a humanity that were so moving.”
In 1973, he became part of horror movie history in “The Exorcist” where he portrayed a priest trying to rid a possessed young girl of her ldemons.
More recently, von Sydow appeared in blockbusters such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the hit television HBO series “Game of Thrones” making him a familiar face to millions in the later part of his life.
His career began more humbly in the early 1950s on the theater stages of Stockholm and then Malmo, where he met the man who would help forge his career — Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.
It is von Sydow’s collaboration with Bergman in art-house films often laden with existential angst — now seen as all-time classics — that are likely to be his best-remembered roles.
In one of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, von Sydow played the knight who has a chess game with death on a lonely beach in “The Seventh Seal” from 1957.
He appeared in numerous other Bergman movies, notably “The Virgin Spring” and “Through a Glass Darkly” as well as the English-language “The Touch” in which he starred alongside American actor Elliott Gould.
He also worked with fellow Scandinavian acting great Liv Ullmann on Jan Troell’s 1971 masterpiece “The Emigrants” about a group of impoverished Swedes moving to the United States. It received several Oscar nominations.
Von Sydow was twice nominated for Academy Awards, first in 1989 for his role in “Pelle the Conqueror” and then in 2012 for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” about an 11-year-old boy whose father dies in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
One of his final roles was as a stern Russian admiral in Thomas Vinterberg’s 2018 English-language film about the 2000 Kursk Russian submarine disaster.
Von Sydow had two sons with his first wife Christina Olin. He married his second wife, French documentary filmmaker Catherine Brelet, in 1997, and the couple lived together in France.
He had to renounce his Swedish citizenship in 2002 when he acquired French nationality.
“I want to live in France. And I want to die in France,” he told newspaper Aftonbladet in 2012.


Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

Muslims hold congregational prayer, as Italy eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Rome. (Reuters/File)
Updated 07 June 2020

Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

  • New agreement allows for imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates in Italian prisons

ROME: An agreement between the Italian government and the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (Italian: Unione delle Comunità e Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia, UCOII) will allow imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates detained in Italian prisons.

The memorandum of understanding follows an agreement signed last month between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and representatives from Islamic communities in Italy on the reopening of mosques and prayer rooms as part of the country’s ‘Phase 2’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis. The agreement is considered by Muslim representatives as a step toward official recognition of Islam as a religion in Italy.

According to the Italian Ministry of Justice, nearly 10,000 of the 60,000 inmates detained in Italian prisons are foreigners, most of whom are from Morocco, Tunisia and Romania. Latest official figures show that 7,200 inmates are observant Muslims, with 97 considered imams as they guide prayers within jails and 44 saying they converted to Islam during their detention.

In only few Italian jails, however, are Muslim inmates provided with spaces dedicated for prayer, which are not sufficient to meet the demand. By contrast, every prison has a Roman Catholic chapel where religious services are regularly held by priests, most of whom are paid by the Italian state.

The memorandum was signed by Department of Penitentiary Administration Chief Judge Bernardo Petralia and UCOII President Yassine Lafram.

“It implements the principle of religious freedom for all citizens established in the Constitution of the Italian Republic, which guarantees prisoners the right to profess their religious faith also while they are in detention. Considering the increasing multiethnicity of the Italian prison population, it is necessary to allow every religion to be professed in a proper way,” a statement from the Italian Ministry of Justice says.

According to the protocol, UCOII will provide prison administration with a list of people who “perform the functions of imam in Italy” and who are “interested in guiding prayers and worship within prisons nationwide.” The list will also specify at which mosque or prayer room each Imam normally performs his worship. Imams will have to indicate their preference for three provinces where they would be willing to lead prayers for inmates.

As no official agreement or law yet regulates in full the relationship between the Italian state and the Islamic communities in the country, the names of Imams on the list will have to be submitted to the Ministry of the Interior so that they may receive official authorization to perform their duties inside prisons.

Lafram said that he was “extremely satisfied” with this agreement with the Italian State.

“With this new protocol, it will be possible to have imams lead prayers in every prison in Italy. This is a sign of the excellent result obtained thus far for a pilot project we have carried out in the past five years in eight Italian prisons,” Lafram said.

Since 2015, some rooms have been made available to Muslim inmates for prayer, but the congregation had nobody to lead prayers or to preach, except during extraordinary times of the year like Ramadan. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, no one from outside was allowed access to prisons in order to prevent the spread infection. As a consequence, no spiritual assistance was available to Muslim inmates even within the few prisons that had a space for prayer and meditation.

“Spiritual assistance to prisoners is necessarily part of the process of reintegration into civil society, as stated in the Constitution of the Italian Republic,” Lafram told Italian news agency ANSA.

"With this agreement, we aim to promote social rehabilitation of the inmate, but also to…avoid any phenomenon of radicalization, which may be triggered by a condition of general resentment towards society," he added.

Lafram expressed his wish that greater attentiveness to the needs of Islamic communities across Italy would eventually lead to formal recognition of the religion in the country. He thanked Minister of Justice Alfonso Bonafede for “showing no prejudices toward the Islamic communities in Italy."

"This is an important step in the context of an ever-greater collaboration between our religious community and the Italian State in the general interest of the country’s welfare,” he said.