Johannes (Jakob Cedergren) returns home one unremarkable evening, he discovers that his entire life has been turned upside down. As he and his wife Signe (Helle Fagralid) try to come to terms with a tragic death, Johannes looks back over their relationship, and wonders whether his actions could have caused his misfortune.
Nils Malmros’s film is filled with tragedy and loss, but it is also a powerful examination of mental illness, character and the influences that we have on one another’s lives.
The leading couple – Cedergren and Fagralid – are wonderful in the roles. Whether they are at one another’s throats or enjoying each other’s company, the chemistry between the two is what makes the emotional heart of the film, and it is what makes an extraordinary story believable. The rest of the cast is made up of Ida Dwinger, Kristian Halken, Nicolas Bro and Maja Dybboe.
The catalyst for the film is the death of Johannes and Signe’s infant daughter, and what follows is an examination of their relationship, the influence they have over each other, paranoia and mental illness. What is also revealed is a level of forgiveness and kindness that is simply incredible. Neither one of these characters is perfect, but each has an amazing power to forgive and move on in their lives. The story is not perfect, and by no means does it try to shine a light on the causes of mental illness, but it does highlight the fact that this cannot be ignored, and it can often be irrational.
As director, Nils Malmros examines the story with care and competency, and manages to never judge either of the main characters for their actions; even as one is revealed to be paranoid and clingy, the other is shown to be selfish and absent. This does not excuse the behaviour of the characters, but it allows the audience to see these characters as real and relatable people. There are times, however, where the story and direction feels a little self indulgent – Johannes just so happens to be a film director with a film at Cannes – but this also goes a long way to explain Johannes’ absence from his wife’s life.
In all, Sorrow & Joy does not try to answer the questions it raises about mental health and tragedy, but by allowing the characters to work through their issues on screen, the audience gains a greater understanding of them both. Slightly indulgent at times but often powerful, Sorrow & Joy is a tale of an almost unfathomable ability to forgive.