‘Troubled Water’ on Amazon Prime

Trine Dyrholm and Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen in 'Troubled Water,' a drama from Norway.

In Troubled Water (2008), a Norwegian drama from filmmaker Erik Poppe, soft-spoken convict Jan (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen) starts a new life for himself as a church organist who brings services to life with his music and even stirs the interest of the female pastor, a single mother with a sweet young boy. The problem is his past: he was convicted of murdering a child (the same age as the pastor’s son), and even though he swears it was an accident (a mishap during a prank/petty theft gone wrong), it’s all dredged up when he’s recognized by a member of the congregation.

Just when the film seems to be a portrait in redemption threatened by this revelation, the film shifts focus to Agnes, the mother of the dead child (Trine Dyrholm). She’s a dedicated schoolteacher and a caring wife and mother of two girls, but seeing Jan again sends her spiraling back into the emotional storm of loss and grief and we are reminded that the damage of Jan’s actions still reverberate through the survivors.

There’s a lot of talk of God (Jan plays the organ with a passion but can’t reconcile a benevolent God with his world) and forgiveness and confession but the film is ultimately about responsibility and accountability, and not just for Jan. Agnes, flailing for some kind of justice and closure, descends into obsession and embarks on a path that threatens to end up a repeat of Jan’s sins. It’s a compelling drama with an unsettling story and sympathetic characters with troubled and troubling lives and it won awards from film festivals around the world.

In Norwegian with English subtitles.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.