I got a chance to see the great Norwegian film Troubled Water last night as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. As an added bonus, the Director, Erik Poppe, was on hand for a Q&A afterwards.
The film is a Rashomon style retelling of events from two very different perspectives. The story begins with two young thieves stealing an unattended baby stroller to get the purse with it. This leads to the accidental (?) death of the child, and the jailing of the thieves. Flash ahead several years, and one of the thieves has reinvented himself as a church organist (despite having no faith in religion himself), and he takes a job with a small church where he becomes involved with the young priest and her son.
The story splits at about the midpoint, and all of a sudden you see everything that has gone before from the viewpoint of the young mother who lost her child that day. She is understandably broken by losing a child. The director made an interesting choice to have the mother be, in some ways, a far less sympathetic character than the organist. As he said, when something like this happens you only ever hear about the grieving family, not any one else affected by the tragedy.
The film is a deft meditation on the ideas of rehabilitation, atonement and forgiveness. In particular, the difference between forgiveness and atonement. Technically, the split storytelling was quite effective, and cleverly done. One cinematography trick that stood out to me, was the use of an extreme close up where the face is out of focus and the surroundings in sharp focus.
I was surprised to learn that this was the first film for two of the leads, because the performances were assured and controlled. The stand out was Trine Dyrholm, who played the self destructing mother. The scenes where the semi-normal life she has built out of the tragedy slowly descend into paranoid madness are outstanding. She conveys worlds of emotion with small expressions.
A final note, the music in the film is amazing. I'm a sucker for organ music anyway, but the wall of sound created by this film is powerful. The music is almost a character. It's Jan's only escape from his life, in a sense his atonement. The film also includes the most gothic wedding march I have ever heard. It's like someone commissioned Phillip Glass to write a wedding march.
I cannot recommend Broken Water enough. I also recommend joining your local film festival. It's a great way to see stuff you wouldn't normally see. I am always surprised by something every year.
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