Betsy Cass can’t quite replicate her exceptional first viewing of Joachim Trier’s Reprise but still appreciates its urgency and artistry despite some now-obvious faults.
It’s pretty rare for most people to see a movie knowing absolutely nothing about it in advance. For me, it’s almost never happened. But I came to Reprise ten years ago knowing nothing other than it had gotten two four-star reviews in the paper, that I needed to get out of my 90-degree-plus apartment, and that it was the only film at the theatre down the street I hadn’t seen yet. Having no expectations, I barely even made it to the movie, walking in 30 seconds late after the Osterreich bakery took a half an hour on my kaiserschmarrn, which I had intended to eat beforehand. Instead, I’d had to race to the theatre with it in tow, ending up stuck in the front row and forced to choose whether to look down to fork food into my face or gaze upwards so I wouldn’t miss any of the subtitles. Let’s just say that kaiserschmarrn got cold.
From the first minute, I was in love with the film. It was stylish, but not self-consciously so, youthful but not youth obsessed and intelligent without being conceited. It simultaneously had a coolly flat affect while being explosive and full of life. “This is it,” I thought. It spoke directly to me, replicating me and my friends and the way we interacted. This was that movie, that knew exactly who you were and what you were thinking. It hit me in a way only music had hit me before in terms of representation. (The way the film capitalized on several great bands didn’t hurt.) The tale of two young writers and their disinterested friends launched into my top five and I told everyone I knew just how goddamn great I thought it was.
But no one seemed to agree with me. In the intervening decade, I’ve also found diminishing returns in the output of director Joachim Trier. Follow-up Oslo, August 31st was excellent, but received no notice in America; English language debut Louder Than Bombs made positive waves but was a major disappointment for me; and this year’s return to Norway, Thelma, was a rapturously received work that ticked all the theoretical boxes of appeal for me, but was in reality laughable trash. So I was nervous going back into Reprise. I suspected strongly that rewatching it would only ruin how I felt about the film.
So does it hold up? Well, not in the way I originally saw it, no. I am surely embarrassed at what a personal connection I had to these characters, but the film itself is still structurally intriguing and emotionally affecting on a smaller scale. It’s a good movie, but unless you are a) under 25 or b) an asshole, it’s probably hard to call it truly great.
My response to the film upon first viewing was almost entirely based on how it made me feel. This time around, I can more easily step back to look at style, technique, and influences. It’s now very clear that the movie is derivative of a whole lot of stuff I don’t particularly care for (specifically French New Wave) but is remixing it in a way that I can get behind. Trier opens and closes with narration that now smacks of a Wes Anderson rip-off, but at the time the film was made was not entrenched enough in Anderson’s style for me to believe this was intentional theft. Here, though, the narration is speculative, actually telling a story about the characters, not relating true acts. It’s a bold choice that forces you to carefully parse what you’re seeing. The emotion of these moments influences your take on the characters, even if it’s not real: It’s like hearing something in court then being told it’s inadmissible. Trier also relies heavily on jump cuts, but not in a commonly frenetic way. Instead, he takes it slow, intercutting dialogue and imagery from multiple scenes to such an extent that it’s sometimes impossible to tell to what moment the dialogue actually belongs. It’s dreamy and intimate, creating a sense of character as opposed to relating a specific incident.
Both the editing and narration contrast the extreme realism that’s present throughout other parts of the film. Less formally interesting, the scenes of friends hanging out and, most importantly, harassing each other provide an important flipside to the lyricism on display elsewhere (although they both work towards the same ends). The lead characters are not, strictly speaking, nice to each other. They are jealous, annoyed and bored with each other. They talk about each other behind their backs and sit in silence with nothing to say. They say cruel things, as jokes and not as jokes. They say offensive things, as jokes and not as jokes. And they let each other say these things, when they agree with them and when they don’t, because that’s what you really do when you’re with your closest friends: exploring the edges of ideas, right and wrong, even as you mercilessly mock one another. These people, they are not necessarily good people and, much as I hate to admit, that’s what surely appealed to me so much when I was ten years younger (and much closer in age to the characters in the film). It felt unbelievably honest. Now it feels honest, but also understandably immature.
The blend of fleeting artistic vignettes with moments of total realism manufactures an extreme closeness with the characters. It was overwhelming for me the first time around, creating a borderline Stendahl reaction (something that Trier was rather remarkably clearly gunning for, given he even namedrops the syndrome partway through). The movie felt like a sweaty, violent punk show in a basement, but also the beautiful, crisp silence of spilling out into the early morning street when the music ends. It felt ideal and immediate. I can’t say I still feel that when I watch the film, but there are moments of joyful exuberance that remain. Much of the wonderfully awkward humor continues to hit me just right and the strange momentum of the film is still pretty hypnotic.
It’s likely all my reactions have been based on expectations. With none, it’s hard not to be wowed by so much of what Trier and the actors pull off. With astronomical ones, it’s impossible not to be disappointed. Yet even if I’m not the same person the movie spoke so directly to ten years ago, there’s a level of urgency and artistry that’s tough to deny. Trier gets remarkably unobtrusive payoff from his formal experiments and I have yet to run across another film that is able to so effectively capture the petulant insouciance that I felt in my early 20s. It might not retain the full impact of a first viewing bursting with youthful turmoil, but really, what film ever could?
– For a movie about such a specific experience of youth to not feel dated at all is actually pretty remarkable.
– All the musical choices and references in the film are pretty impeccable EXCEPT the bashing on The Clash. You can’t like Joy Division and Bikini Kill, but not The Clash.
– Okay, I actually don’t like Bikini Kill, but the use of Deceptacon to break up a bougie party is inspired.
– The more I see this movie, the more I think one of the more leftfield (non-New Wave) influences was Quadrophenia. More movies please rip off that movie!
– I’m only now realizing how much this movie has in common with another one of my favorites, Wonder Boys. Is it weird that that movie holds up better? Because I’ve yet to meet anyone else that truly likes that movie.
– I love the way Phillip and Erik’s friends are used in the movie. They exist as real, sometimes bland and interchangeable, people not as archetypes to prove a point. Yet they all get a very organic moment that makes you feel like we may as well be following their story.
– I’m struggling to recall any actor that so effectively portrays profound sadness as Anders Danielsen Lie. He’d do it again to great effect in Oslo, August 31st. Next up he’s playing Anders Breivik for Paul Greengrass, so……that should interesting.
– Even though I like him better than Daniel Brühl, I call Espen Klouman Høiner “Norwegian Daniel Brühl” in my head every time I see him.