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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


Troubled Water
Directed by Erik Poppe
Film Movement 02/10 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Not Rated

Jan Thomas (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen) is a young man who has served eight years in a Norwegian prison for murder. He still claims that he is guilty of kidnapping a boy but did not kill him. During his last day of incarceration, Jan is beaten up by other inmates led by his partner in crime from the past.

A chaplain at the prison has found a church in Oslo that needs an organist. After hearing him play, Jan is hired by Anna (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), the pastor, a single woman who has a young son named Jens. He is troubled that the young boy looks like the child he was accused of murdering. She believes in second chances and that "God really has a purpose for everything." Jan is given a small apartment and when the pastor arrives with some curtains, they both realize that there is a sexual attraction between them.

The split narrative of this Norwegian film directed by Erik Poppe serves an opportunity for us to empathize with two very different people who have both had their lives devastated by the kidnapping. So far, we can identify with Jan's attempt to start a new life and fulfill his passion for playing the organ. His blossoming affair with Anna signals a yearning for love and connection that gives him hope for his personal renewal.

Whereas hope is on the horizon for Jan, Agnes (Trine Dyrholm), the mother of the murdered boy, has been unable to stop grieving over the loss of her son. She and her husband Jon (Trond Espen Seim) live in Oslo with their two adopted Asian daughters. One day, Agnes, a teacher, takes her class on a visit to the church where Jon plays the organ. He demonstrates his artistry by playing a beautiful rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water"; the kids are mesmerized as they listen. Agnes recognizes him and is sick with anger and dread. She later learns from her husband that he has decided to move rather than deal with the convicted murderer living and working near them. In a powerful scene where Agnes and Jon have dinner with his new boss and his wife, the two women share their feeling about "losing" their sons.

Troubled Water is a poignant film about grief, guilt, and forgiveness. But the most salutary thing about the drama is that the director and screenplay writer Harald Rosenlow Eeg give us a rounded and heart-affecting chance to practice compassion for both Jan, the accused murderer, and Agnes, the victim's mother. Without judgment, we are able to empathize with the fear and the hope of an ex-con as he tries to make a new life for himself and the terrible suffering of the victim's mother who cannot let go of the past until she finds out exactly how her son died (his body has never been found).

Troubled Water is a deeply spiritual film that has not been seen by many people. We are grateful to Film Movement for making it available to a larger audience.


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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Anna and Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen as Jan Trine Dyrholm as Agnes and Trond Espen Seim as Jon

Listen to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" played on the organ from the film's soundtrack

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