Through a circular narrative, the 100 minutes of the film’s runtime are divided into two, almost equally long pieces. One half recounts what happened before the tragic incident, while the rest focuses on what occurred afterwards. In the beginning, we witness how film director Johannes Lindenius (Jacob Cedergreen) returns home to a shocking announcement by his mother-in-law: Signe (Helle Fagralid), his wife and primary school teacher, who also suffers from manic depression, has cut their daughter’s throat with a kitchen knife.
The husband’s held back emotional display as well as his own and the community’s reaction present a case of reason over sentiment so profound, that it appears unrealistic. On the other hand, quite interesting is the fact that the character portrayed as the least empathetic towards Signe’s condition is the psychiatrist Dr. Birkemose, subtly played by Nicolas Bro. It is partly through narrations & flashbacks during Johannes’s conversation with him, and partly during the film’s present time, that we are told of the couple’s early days and a series of events that challenged their relationship, but repeatedly failed to break them apart.
Here needs to be mentioned that, even when doubting the logic and credibility of the characters’ responses, the quality and execution of the script compel the viewer to acknowledge them as true. What’s more, Malmros’s film-making history of using strong realism along with the striking honesty reflected in the leading performances challenge the audience to take a leap of faith. Could this story actually be a rare account of mature thinking, deep understanding of mental illness and ultimately, love?
Meticulous direction, distinctly emphasizing on facial expressions that mirror the turbulence and trauma the characters undergo, together with a confident use of frame and light by cinematographer Jan Weincke, create a professional as it is emotionally loaded depiction of distant yet not forgotten memories.
One of the most intense and impressive parts of the script is the scene where Johannes, trying to console his wife by admitting and accepting his share of responsibilty, reassures her that she carries no guilt, while they – the family – may, because they didn’t look after her. As moving and hopeful as that declaration undoubtedly is, it is Signe’s answer that has the strongest impact. “Would you write that on a piece of paper that I can take out and look at?” That is the moment when one fully comprehends what the protagonists already had and begins to justify all which, to that point, had been unconceivable.
All things considered, Sorrow & Joy is a refreshing take on the darkness of psychosis against the striking radiance of love, brought to the screen by a person who has experience of both, experience which he is, today, courageous enough to share.