Sunday, April 18, 2010

Troubled Water. (2008) Erik Poppe


The third film in Poppe's "Oslo Trilogy" translates as "The Invisibles," which is fitting, as "DeUs" also fits into a portion of the title. We're itching to search for God here, and if he's only invisible or quietly up in heaven, we'd prefer him down here in our waters of trouble.

I've always maintained that heaven is a wonderful concept for the afterlife, but it's an afterlife of which we have no inherent proof. If there's a God, and if he really cares for mankind as we like to think, we'd rather have him guiding and aiding in our earthen journey than quietly watching, amused in the skies.

The characters in Troubled Water have struggled through hell on earth already. If heaven is just out of reach to them now, they understandably crave a form of peace as they journey ahead.

Jan Thomas, fresh out of jail for the conviction of a child murder years ago, finds employment as a church organist and fills the pipes with a wind of conviction. His talent is as unquestionable as the beauty of his music. Even with fingers taped together from a final beating before his release, his hands glide into chording structures, flying over the keys, and his shoeless feet tap fervently at the pedals booming bass lines below. He approaches the instrument like it's his last chance at salvation -- there's nothing but absolute conviction dripping from every belted out note. Distancing himself from the faith of much of the church's teachings, his organ playing replaces separation from their cause.

One of the greatest reasons to fall in love with Troubled Water is the agonizing beauty of these inspired organ moments.

Festen's Trine Dyrholm plays Agnes, the mother of the lost child of Jan Thomas's conviction. Her child's body was never found, further planting that gaping hole at the core of her being. Her horrifying discovery of Jan Thomas's church presence leaves her inward resentments exposed. His presence almost puts her in an out of body mode. She exists as one who sits beside herself. Jan Thomas's loving involvement with the church's PK -- a young blond boy who looks almost exactly like the child she lost -- only further seals the feeling of burning anger in her heart.

So we begin our delving into the psyche of both characters: one stocked up with an inventory of guilt, longing to forget his wrongful past and move forward, and the other, bordering toward hysterical in her loss, steadfast in her conviction that the ex-con is still the same man. He's that cruel and careless monster who stole the innocent boy from her life. He might be free, and his music certainly sounds like he's changed, but he'll always remain a criminal in her mind.

The church itself plays a distinct role in its aim to comfort both characters. The attitudes in this church are those you would hope for in the church as a global healer -- always looking for beauty, looking to bless as they've received blessing, making the right next step, the best approach toward goodness. Priestess Anna brings soothing words of God's grace to Jan Thomas. An elder in the church tells Jan Thomas that the communion's power is real whether or not he fully believes. He partakes in the sacrament, longing for freedom from the bonds of guilt.

Of course Jan Thomas falls for Anna. That much would have been obvious. She is beautiful, she's full of tenderness and mercy, she's alone with her boy and is probably hoping for more out of life. With his talent and good looks and his quest for spiritual reconciliation, it's hard to believe she wouldn't eventually fall for Jan Thomas, too.

Jan Thomas is quiet about his past in dealing with the church and his new love interest. They know he played organ in the prison chapel, but he's hesitant to tell them how he got there. And no one wants to ask -- they're all satisfied with a repentant sinner in their midst (especially one as talented as JT) -- until Agnes begins showing up and scraping out questions like a sand blaster. The elder reminds Agnes that the church is a place for wounded souls like Jan Thomas, and yet he still needs to confront Jan Thomas about the incident (a confrontation which actually takes places earlier in this spliced-up gem of a story).

Upon her discovery of all of his past, Jan Thomas admits to Anna, "I wanted you to like me first." It might seem at the point its said that it's too little, too late, which is quite a sad fact of life.

It's a lot to take in, more than she'd have to deal with in most relationship baggage, but isn't this really what everyone does when they're courting or dating someone, when they're seeking out a life partner or even looking for a friend? We don't let all the baggage out at once. For some of us, time makes the baggage heavier every year -- the older we get, the less we let out at all! When meeting someone new, we want them to "like us" before diving into the backwash. It rarely comes back to bite us the way it apparently does Jan Thomas, but I'd imagine for quite a few of us it could.

In the final gripping scenes we no longer know who's the bad guy and which one needs redemption more. We cross a bridge from developed characters into somewhat expressionist archetypes, in which ethical ideas replace the need for a tight plot, and human touch creates a greater understanding.

Like Revanche was a meditation on revenge, DeUsynlige feels very much like a meditation on guilt, and on confronting and burying what's dead in the back yard. It's as packed with euphoric longing as a film gets. From beginning to end it is the high point of the trilogy, with a climax that reaches toward the Godly.

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