May 14, 2008

On Reprise



It is often said that it is very hard to make movies about artists, especially writers, and especially ones who could possibly be read as author surrogates for the creative principles behind the film (weather a film itself can be art is a whole ‘nother can of worms). Despite (and it part, because of) the fact that it has bildungsroman writ large all over it, Norwegian Joachim Trier’s, Scott Rudin approved, Miramax distributed Reprise is a minor miracle, stylish and suave, touching and humorous, it is perhaps the most propulsive and eminently watchable film about young, ambitious, literary twentysomethings ever made, which, I suppose, makes it tailor made for the chattering, art house set and just about no one else.

In its story of two Olso based, twenty-three year old novelists, Philip (Anders Danielsen Lie), blond and seemingly well adjusted, still living with his mother and hiding his girlfriend from his rambunctious buddies, and Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner), dark, brooding and passionate, the first of the duo to see publication but with emotional costs much higher than he anticipates, the film will spend much sensuous and tonally dexterous energy imagining how their dreams of duel literary stardom could play out and how the limitations of both artmaking and lovemaking can often guarantee nothing but loneliness, heartbreak and insecurity. It succeeds in making the clich├ęs about writers, both young and old, seem new and fully informed by authentic human experience. Its two non-actors (Lie now studies acting, Klouman-Hoiner remains the medical student he was when Trier found him) offer the kind of nuanced, tricky thesping rarely glimpsed in uninitiated.

Trier’s film is digressive, lyrical and a bit punk rock – it never stagnates or resolves to toil in the formally predictable, the gloom hanging over post success, post suicide attempt Erik for much of the late second and third acts dissipating into an altogether elusive and satisfying ending. Trier deftly weaves in and out of the filmic present, juxtaposing the duo’s slowly fracturing social group of horny, self-absorbed, exceedingly well read, post collegiate lit boys, with the aftermath of Erik’s retreat from literary ambition, coming on the heels of successful publication and a torrid romantic meltdown. Philip’s novel has been rejected by several houses, but seems to be gaining traction, while his commitment to his safe, comfy girlfriend begins to waver. Philip’s relationship couldn’t be any more different from Erik’s, obsessed with cherry haired Kari (Victoria Winge), who falls for him after he asks her to follow him to Paris on their second encounter, igniting a series of increasing passionate episodes which ends in suspicious friends, slit wrists and much tear wrangling.

Clearly early Trauffaut is an influence, especially for the canon shot pre-title sequence, but Trier reaches further into pre-New Wave gallic cinema when constructing the sequence in which Erik tries to rekindle his passion with Kari, revisiting and reconstructing there first Paris escapade detail by detail with devastating results, a melancholy tone poem of a passage, it recalls the Alain Resnais of Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad.

Trier’s film is playfully digressive, lyrical and a bit punk rock – it never stagnates or resolves to toil in the formally predictable, the gloom hanging over post success, post suicide attempt Erik for much of the second act dissipating into an altogether elusive and satisfying ending. While it isn’t high modernism, it does engage us in an, at times, aesthetically rapturous experience which suggests the ability of the author (any of us, as the co-authors, with coincidence I suppose, of our own lives) to sublimely delude ourselves and yet, in some way, make something tangible and real of those delusions. Weather capturing the passion men like these will greet their artistic influences with, the difficulty they can have in shirking them (and their often adolescent mores) off or the all common lack of self-knowledge that even the most gifted and conscious of us can exhibit, Reprise makes no false moves. It allows you to see the world new again.