Sorrow and Joy: Love Conquers All
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
- Danish director Nils Malmros’ autobiographical film about a tragic event that changed his life.
An early morning, towards the end of the film – 26 years after the tragic event took place – Johannes and Signe are talking in bed. “You have made films about being hopelessly in love in middle school, in high school, when you began as a director – but never a film about learning to love,” she says. “That’s the film I can never make,” he replies.
Sorrow and Joy [+see also:
film profile], Danish director Nils Malmros’ 11th feature, is exactly that film, a depiction of what happened before and after that day in February 1984, when his wife in a psychotic state cut the throat of their nine-month-old daughter in their villa in an Aarhus suburb, while he was delivering a lecture at a college on the island of Funen.
Signe is sentenced to psychiatric care (the court psychiatrist changed his original stance of detention). But everybody feels guilty: Johannes, because he left her alone with the child, although he felt it was not safe; her mother, who had promised to be with her until he returned; and her father, because her mental illness – she was manic-depressive – was inherited from his family (his brother committed suicide).
Scripted and cleverly structured by Malmros and John Mogensen, Sorrow and Joy follows Johannes (Malmros: Jacob Cedergren) as he arrives home – there is no light in the kitchen windows, something must be wrong, which he learns soon enough. When he is allowed to see his wife (Helle Fagralid) a couple of days later at the psychiatric hospital, he knows they have a difficult way ahead of them.
While he insists he does not himself need to see a psychotherapist, he finds one in the court psychiatrist (Nicolas Bro), whom he talks to about their troubled relationship since they met at a bar and later decided to get married. He was a filmmaker and different – she was a teacher and felt inferior to his intellectual gifts, his tastes, jealous of his fan letters and obvious fascination of his female actresses.
The film describes the ups and downs of their marriage, their happiness when Maria arrived – "Signe loved her more than anything in the world." After 18 months of psychiatric care she takes up her former teacher job at the school, where the parents of children in her class had unanimously signed a petition to get her back.
With a low-voiced sincerity – never a false note - and Malmros’ subtle directing of Cedergren and Fagralid in outstanding performances, Sorrow and Joy is a heart-breaking story that seriously challenges your tear ducts (if any left). A strong ensemble – Bro, Signe’s mother (Ida Dwinger), Johannes’ favourite 15-year-old actress (Maja Dybboe), his lawyer (Søren Pilmark) – emphasised by Jan Weincke’s empathetic cinematography contributes to Malmros’ concluding pictures of life in Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, where they speak Aarhusian (not so much here, though) and are usually short of the smart remark. It is never said explicitly - Love Conquers All – but it could easily have been, and would still have sounded natural. An original voice in Danish cinema: this is Malmros at his best.