Films I’ve Watched: Reprise (watched 1/08/09)

Reprise is the debut feature film from writer and director Joachim Trier. If that last name sounds familiar, well, his brother is Lars Von Trier. But this review won’t have a single comparison between the siblings. This film is an artful and engaging work completely on its own, and in many ways superior to anything Lars has done, oh wait that’s a comparison! Dammit!reprise

In all seriousness, I watched this movie, hearing it was one of the best of it’s year, 2006 in homeland Norway, finally released in the states in 2008 I believe. I was not disappointed. This was an amazing film, right from the opening shot all the way through the cathartic ending. It engages the audience and connects the viewer to its characters immediately, and these are some of the most believable and honest characters I’ve seen in recent memory. Not necessarily sympathetic or apathetic, these are simply characters who seem REAL.

The story centers on two friends, Phillip and Erik. They are both young aspiring novelists, and the films opens with them both submitting a manuscript. There is a montage of what the two hoped would become of this endeavor, from cult status, to living abroad, to separating and eventually reuniting and so on. The two writers invent their future in their heads, in a very rapid and artsy style of quick cuts, black and white photography and various New Wave influenced techniques. I was reminded instantly of Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) as if narrated by Jean-Luc Goddard.

We then get a result of what’s become of the two writers, Phillip is published, but finds only alienation and obsession in his success. Erik is actually relieved to be denied, secretly thinking he was talentless and almost happy to have that fear confirmed.

Again, these are complex characters, and the film treats them very realistically, often even garnering a documentary feel with various close ups and extended silences. Yet the artful details make this compelling work all the more fascinating.

It turns out Phillip has had a mental breakdown of sorts and was hospitalized for six months. We accompany Erik and his group of friends as they drive to the institution to pick Phillip up after his extended stay. Things go from humorous to sensitive, as the friends feel for Phillip and yet are unsure of how to act around their fragile companion. We get more information in a quick series of flashbacks than any amount of dialogue could tell us, as Erik looks at Phillip’s hands and quietly remembers the blood on his friend six months earlier.

We then get another series of narration driven flashbacks on how this group of five guys became friends, meeting at punk shows and getting to know the band and all of that. Again, it’s so natural and believable that you never once question what is happening or why it happening, even with seemingly distorted shots and quick, quick cuts between relatively unknown people.

2007_10_05_repriseIn my opinion, the film’s greatest strength is the emotional ties it creates between the audience and the characters. Now I said that these guys weren’t necessarily sympathetic, but I grew so fond of them that I worried for Phillip the way I would for a dear friend of my own, and I rooted for Erik to find his success as I would champion any of my chums.¬† These are really well written and completely fleshed out portrayals, and the writers, Trier and Eskil Vogt, obviously spent considerable time and have considerable talent to pull this off. On top of that, the actors are some of the most organic and fluent performers I have seen in a long time.

We follow Phillip as he is released, meets up with his former girlfriend Kari, and tries to readjust to life outside the hospital. Meanwhile Erik has written again and is accepted. His book will be published, like Phillip’s was, and we see him struggle with that weighty expectation and the shadow of his famous friend. Phillip doesn’t want to write anymore but we know his passion will win out. All the while they and their friends contemplate life, women and their own failures and triumphs. All of this is beautifully shot and scored, and all with an amazing New Wave soundtrack. Any time you’ve got Joy Division in the opening credits, and it actually works, you’re doing alright in my book.

All throughout the film we see tragedies, experience uncomfortable silences and awkward interaction, engage in subtle contempt and humiliation, and feel constant dread. But this movie is actually pretty funny too. There is a party scene where everyone let loose, dancing and joyously reveling in spirits, followed up by disappointments, and avoided confrontations. The friends all joke about one another, giving each other nicknames like Porno Lars, while still dealing with the painful aspects of growing up and apart as all adults seem to do.

This film more accurately reflects the under the surface pain and struggle we face day in and day out as people than most other outwardly dramatic movies. I’m thinking of movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? or the recent film Doubt, where everyone is just shouting at each other the whole time. Nobody actually acts like that, so why are all these supposed human dramas making it seem like we’re a bunch of screamers? No-we are secretive, we are passive aggressive, we look away from tragedy and conflict, we embrace the past and always romanticize about living in another time, another place. Reprise is an honest examination of how we really are.

I know I don’t really have any jokes to sprinkle in this review, like I do with others, but none are needed. This is a heartfelt and stunning film. I loved it, all the way through. I would certainly recommend this film to art minded people. It is not exactly a crowd pleaser like Run Lola Run, but it has depth, beauty, and wisdom. Anyone who wants to be a writer has to see this film. But regardless, everyone should check it out, before it falls prey to an American remake or some other unfitting treatment. Yes, it has subtitles, but it also has a mountain of talent behind it. I want to watch it again, like, right now. In fact, I’m off to do just that.

-Charlie

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