Each week on “Unknown Pleasures,” Jake recommends a film whose reputation has fallen to the wayside, and has since become underseen, underrated, or undervalued. This week, it’s Joachim Trier's Reprise.
With just three films under his belt, Norwegian director Joachim Trier is already one of cinema’s greatest contemporaries. This week sees the release of his latest work, Louder Than Bombs, a phenomenal portrait of a grieving family and fractured household, following the death of its matriarch. His previous film, 2011’s Oslo, August 31st, was a bleak and insular piece that placed the audience in the company of a recovering drug addict. On paper, these films seem like they could only offer recipes for cliché-ridden, melodramatic disasters, complete with a smattering of histrionic performances. However, the truth is that when guided by Trier’s deft touch and artistic sensibilities, his films thrive as intimate studies of the human condition, eschewing theatrics for more affecting results. His two most recent films are both stunningly effective and poetically subdued visions (especially Louder Than Bombs, seriously, go fucking see it) but perhaps Trier’s greatest efforts lie in his feature-length debut, Reprise. A stylish and romantic tale of young adulthood, friendships, relationships, and creative inspiration, Reprise is an auspicious, joyous, heart-wrenching, and magnificent debut that firmly placed Trier on the map as a young talent to watch.
Reprise follows Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman Høiner), two lifelong friends and 23 year-olds with grand ambitions to become the greatest living writers in Oslo. When we first meet them they are seen depositing their manuscripts in a mailbox to be sent to a local publisher, and upon submission Phillip’s work is immediately accepted. He becomes an overnight sensation, and is recognized as one of Norway’s premier young writers, enshrouded by this newfound fame. Erik, on the other hand, is rejected, which confirms his fears that he may be without talent. Not one to accept defeat, Erik continues his writing, destined to prove his worth. Meanwhile, in the midst of all of his success, Phillip meets Kari, (Viktoria Winge), an attractive young woman with whom he falls in love with. Their relationship becomes something of an unhealthy obsession with Phillip, and this triggers a psychotic breakdown that sends him to a hospital. Six months after his release, Phillip finds he has no more interest to write and struggles to rekindle his relationship with Kari, while Erik continues pursuing his dream, providing support to his ailing friend along the way.
Trier’s screenplay (which he co-wrote with Eskil Vogt, director of last year’s staggering Blind) is a breathless endeavor, utilizing narration from an unseen figure to rapidly recount the rise of Phillip and Erik’s aspirations from an early age, before detailing their possible outcomes if new success is achieved. In fact, the bulk of Reprise is a freewheeling amalgamation of voice-over, flashbacks, flash-forwards, alternating sequences of events, and hyperactive editing, which includes visits to underground concerts where punk bands play hit songs like “Finger Fucked by the Prime Minister” (Joy Division, New Order, and Le Tigre are also featured on the soundtrack). It’s this viewing experience that defines Trier’s film, owing a lot of his stylistic choices to the French New Wave, yet he still manages to forge his own path as a unique and vibrant filmmaker. Reprise may seem like an exhausting, almost daunting task to keep up with every particle of information that is doled out, the results are incredibly rewarding.
Much of Reprise contends closely with Phillip’s troubled relationships with Erik and Kari, following his debilitating bout with psychosis. With Erik, Phillip’s friendship has become terribly strained, finding the two attempting to return to their status quo prior to the incident accident. Consider this sequence, wherein Phillip, Erik, and their friends go to the beach following Phillip’s release. In Phillip’s mind, he sees himself diving into the water and playing with his friends, but in reality they simply stare out into the gloomy waters, leaving them untouched (Trier’s editing here is superb). Matter are even worse with Kari. The apparent cause of Phillip’s breakdown, the film’s centerpiece (and most of its emotional weight) sees Phillip take her on a trip to Paris to recreate specific moments in their relationship, only to find they do not love each other anymore. It’s one of the most heartbreaking sequences I’ve ever seen, and the pain is perfectly communicated by Trier and the actors.
If I’ve made Reprise sound like a horribly pretentious and depressing feature, then please forgive me. It’s actually quite humorous at times, and Trier’s spirited approach to the material, as well as the exuberant energy in the performances, is often extremely infectious to watch. Reprise is a remarkable film, and Joachim Trier is a tremendous filmmaker whose skill behind the camera should not go unseen. Please seek out this film, and his others, or you’ll be finger fucked by the Prime Minister.