“Reprise”, the profound and exceptional debut film by Norwegian director Joachim Trier, explores the emotional fluctuations of artistic young men (passion and confusion abound), and in doing so, offers an insightful new perspective on weighty themes—memory, fate, youth, love, and artistic creativity— that have captured the artistic and intellectual imagination of the cinema’s best filmmakers (the film evokes cinema of the French New Wave in particular).
“Reprise” begins in Oslo during the summer as we are introduced to two twenty three year old writers, Erik (Espen Klouman Hoiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), who are best friends. The two, looking thin, young, and anxious (as they are through much of the film), have their dreams hanging in the balance as they mail their completed manuscripts to publishers. From this point, Trier, who uses a subtle voice over narration coupled with quick jumps through time, brings us through a journey that eventually leads one of them, Phillip, to become a published and well-respected author.
With fame comes vulnerability for these young artists, and Phillip suffers a breakdown of nerves. After Phillip is released from psychiatric treatment, the film jumps back to the not distant past, introducing the ultimate source of Phillip’s agony—Karin (Viktoria Winge), a young woman who, over time, sharply diverts and confounds Phillip’s passion for writing. Karin, calm and understanding, becomes the young author’s obsession, leaving the respected author creatively impotent and utterly confused.
Erik, who remains an unwavering friend to Phillip through his mental and emotional breakdown, tries hard to get him to start writing again, with little luck. Their lives move on, and soon Erik gets his big break; his novel is published. From this point we experience a number of jumps through time, and watch the two friends as their lives are overcome with youthful exuberance, creativity, depression, vulnerability and confusion that proliferates their writing, their loves, and their friends. When one is up, often the other is often down, yet their friendship is real and enduring.
These young men are flawed and far from perfect, and are driven by their bountiful artistic creativity and desire to be known. Yet there is a truthfulness and sincerity—in their friendship and their passion for writing—that makes Erik and Phillip characters who are easily appealing and sympathetic. Their lives seek grandiosity, but neither of them displays arrogance or pomposity. They are driven, particularly Erik for much of the film, by a love of writing and the youthful idealistic belief that they can create something truly profound.
This film presents a portrait of creative young men coming of age that is funny, honest, and utterly cool, granting neither a nostalgic look at the early twenties nor a paternalistic scorn. This film speaks to a time in our lives when emotions are simultaneously high and low, bubbling with excitement and anxiety. The characters Trier creates in his story—he co-wrote “Reprise” with Eskil Vogt—are complex and full of contradictions that highlight their youth. They each desperately struggle to find their own creativity, both in their work and their public lives, and fear being ordinary or clichéd.
Erik and Phillip both embrace and grapple with what they think their lives should be like as young artists in such a way that constantly shifts our own expectations. Early in the film, after Erik gets his first book deal, speaking with Phillip, he acknowledges the changes their lives will undergo because of being published. “We can’t have girlfriends now. We’re supposed to write and read and hang out with friends.” Yet, to the admonishment of his friends, Erik initially fights this mantra, and stays with his girlfriend, Lillian (Silje Hagen), whom he refers to as “cool”. However, when fame comes full force to Erik he falls into the life he shirked before. After too much partying and hanging out with friends, Lillian confronts Erik with perhaps the most disparaging insults one of these young men could be called—a cliché.
Time shifts fast and abruptly, and Trier brings us from the past to the future, and then back to the present, creating a intricate narrative that ultimately sees Erik and Phillip through struggles and successes in both their work and relationships. Phillip has his own struggles with his past and his memories, which he tries to placate with a trip to Paris with Karin in hopes of regaining the love that he lost after his breakdown. The scenes in Paris are some of the films’ saddest and most beautiful moments, and Trier relies on sparse dialogue and confused looks from the two lovers that are profound and moving. Yet, though “Reprise” utilizes dynamic temporal shifts, Trier’s control of both his stylistic form and content allow for clarity and purpose that guides the narrative throughout his film.
The connection between the past and future is emphasized through the skillful stylistic decisions made by the director. With ease and subtly (there are few traditional flash back scenes, but rather little blips of the past intertwined with the present), Trier gives us snippets of places in time, allowing us to assess what has come in order to understand the present and make sense of the future. These short moments of time passed that intrude on the present—seeping ever so quietly into Erik and Phillip’s conversations and quiet moments—not only remind us of what has happened to Erik and Phillip, but also reminds us of the dominant hold that memories have on these young men’s lives (particularly Phillip). Indeed, through the use of quick jumps through time, of weaving soundtracks upon images of varying temporal relationships, of first exploring and then re-exploring a possible future through flash forwards, Trier presents a portrait of friendship, love, time, memory and fate, that is both complex and extraordinarily inventive.
Weak: 1 Star Average: 2 Stars Good: 3 Stars Very Good: 4 Stars Excellent: 5 Stars