The contrast between my previous Viennale-screening and this could not have been more jarring and crass. Where “Magic in the Moonlight” was an extremely light and lighthearted affair, “Sorg og Glæde” is… not. Instead, it’s an extremely unsettling, gloomy and harrowing movie – and also one of the most impressive films that I’ve seen last year. “Joy and Sorrow” takes the unimaginable and makes it not just imaginable, but even understandable, at least to some extent. The fact that it’s mostly autobiographical only makes it all the more powerful.
Pretty much the only thing that didn’t completely work for me was the reaction of Johannes’s mother when he comes home at the beginning of the movie. Her collapse to the ground stands out as a little too melodramatic and/or film-like, and somehow didn’t ring true to me. Then again, I obviously wasn’t there when it happened, so this might as well be as it has been – or at least, as Nils Malmros remembers it. I also was slightly taken aback by some of the reactions of the other protagonists, but that’s mostly due to the fact that at first, they have a vast information advantage compared to us. For the viewer, this tragedy comes totally out of the blue (at least dramaturgically and narratively; since obviously when you’ve read the synopsis you already know what awaits you). But over the course of the movie, in elaborate flashbacks, we learn of Signes struggle – which for me made it all the more tragic. If something is totally unexpected, there is little you could have done to prevent it. But in this case, with all these warning signs, I had the feeling that it would have been avoidable. And one of the truly remarkable things of the movie is that in the end, just like the protagonists, I was ready to forgive Signe for what she’s done, since the blame seemed to rest more with the people surrounding – and failing – her than with herself.
I also loved how uncompromising Nils Malmros is in the way Johannes (who is obviously based on himself) is portrayed. His infatuation with an underage girl that he later even casts as the lead in his next movie – including some nudity on her part – is especially troubling. Some viewers may be taken aback, but for me, it made me movie just seem all the more real, since he’s shown as a person with strengths but also weaknesses. The actors also do great work here. Jakob Cedergren is great at showing all sides of Johannes, and Helle Fagralid is especially great as Signe. It’s a terrifying role, and she handles it admirably. What I felt was another nice touch was that in the short scene that’s set 20 years later, while Johannes has aged visibly, Signe still looks the same – because that’s the way she looks in his eyes. It also emphasizes that while “Sorg og Glæde” tells a true story, it’s still filtered through the memories of Nils Malmros. It’s as he experienced it and remembers it, but doesn’t necessarily have to be a 100% accurate. It’s nice to see a movie acknowledge that. The most impressive thing about the movie, however, is definitely how through understanding comes forgiveness, even with a seemingly unforgivable act as this. Thus, as depressing, unsettling and harrowing a movie “Sorg og Glæde” may be, I still found it to be extremely cathartic and in a weird way even hopeful, since it suggests that no one is beyond redemption.