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Nils Malmros • Director

"Sorrow and Joy is not a film about forgiveness"


- "A psychotic person cannot be guilty, so there is no guilt involved. I wanted to show that love conquers all," said Danish director Nils Malmros about his new feature, Sorrow and Joy

Nils Malmros • Director

Danish director Nils Malmros’ new feature, Sorrow and Joy [+see also:
film review
festival scope
film profile
, is so far his most personal film, dealing with a tragic event in his own life. World-premiered in competition at the 8th Rome International Film Festival, the Thomas Heinesen production for Nordisk Film will be launched on 113 screens in Denmark.

Scripted by Malmros and John Mogensen, his 11th feature follows the relationship and later the marriage of a filmmaker and a teacher (the Malmros’es impersonated by Jacob Cedergren and Helle Fagralid). One day, in February 1984, he comes home from a lecture on Funen to find out that his wife, in a psychotic state, has killed their nine-month-old daughter.

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After all these years, Nils Malmros and Marianne are still together, and when she retired from her job she thought it was time for him to make a film about their sorrow and misfortune. Due to the reference to the real-life incident, advance publicity for the film has been second to none in Denmark, which he also accepted.

Cineuropa: You must have had many considerations about whether this was an event you would make a film about. What convinced you in the end?
Nils Malmros: When it happened many people told me that as a filmmaker I had the privilege of being able to work on it artistically. However, it was impossible as long as my wife was a schoolteacher. When she retired, that was no longer a problem. Still it would be difficult to make the film and expose her. On the other hand, in all my films I have told my stories about unrequited love in my youth, so my work would not be completed if I had not depicted how I found mature love through the greatest sorrow in life. My wife told me I saved her life – and to thank me she said I should make the film about our tragedy.

When shooting the film, did you sometimes regret having ever started it?
When the accident happened, the press was very considerate – our names were never mentioned in the news coverage. I knew when the story about the film came out that there would be a strong reaction; but the media have been full of respect that we dared to tell the truth. So no, I have not regretted making the film.

Several people felt guilty when the tragic accident happened. How have you worked on it, and did you ever get away from it?
The most important issue is that my wife has never felt she was guilty. If she did it would have been very difficult to live with her. Of course it was my fault that her depression was allowed to develop, but it does not plague me that much – otherwise I should completely have stopped making movies. But my mother-in-law, who thoughtlessly left her on her own with her child, has been severely suffering from guilt. She still lives, but is now senile, so my film will not be a problem for her.

What did you yourself want to show in the film? That after all you could make a film about learning to love?
Sorrow and Joy is not a film about forgiveness, because a psychotic person cannot be guilty, so there is no guilt involved. I wanted to show that love conquers all, and I needed a true story – if I had made it up, it would have been like issuing a bad cheque.

Most of your films have drawn from your memories of growing up and living in Aarhus. What is so special about Aarhus?
In Aarhus you get the most for your money. Aarhus is big enough to have the blessings of the metropolis, still not big enough for its curses. You have the university, theatres, cinemas, cafés and nightlife, yet there is less than half-an-hour to the beaches, forests and wild nature. I am almost the only director who makes films in Aarhus, and I have always been met with strong support in my home town.

When looking back: which of your 11 features and television films do you consider the most successful?
I always say the latest.

Which usually is also your last?
I wish it would be, because then I would have completed my work, yet without making a fool of myself. At least it is my irrevocably next movie.

A major auteur of Danish cinema, Malmros has extensively drawn on his memories from growing up and living in provincial Aarhus for such films as The Tree of Knowledge (1981), which was selected for Cannes, Beauty and The Beast (1983) and Pain of Love (1992), which competed in Berlin (where Barbara, his only adaptation, was also screened in 1998). His films have seven times won the Danish Film Academy’s Robert awards and four times the Danish Film Critics’ Bodil; in 2005 he received the Honorary Prize of the CPH:PIX-Copenhagen International Film Festival.

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