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Joachim Trier's Reprise is, among other things, an astonishingly accomplished debut. The thirtysomething filmmaker appears to have soaked up latest fashions by the handful even as he has digested the Bergman oeuvre so completely that he knows where the funny parts are. For, even though Reprise seems to be about a young writer who falls into psychosis shortly after his first novel is published to acclaim, there is nothing dreary about Reprise — which, for the matter of that, is not actually "about" Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) at all. Although Mr Lie makes so much of his part that he has been billed as the lead and stolen all the reviews, the character with whom we're clearly asked to identify is his best friend, Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner). For much of the film, Erik looks like Phillip's sidekick. The story begins with the two young men depositing their novels in a mailbox. Phillip is a tad bolder, a bit more willing to take this aggressive step up against rejection; we'll be forgiven for thinking that the idea of writing novels was his. By the end, though, I was sure it was Erik's all along. The very fact that Erik is the watcher, the cautious nice-guy who lives at home and who keeps his relationship with his girlfriend so much to one side that his buddies thinks that she disapproves of them — this ought to tell us who the real novelist is.
Reprise, however, is about writing novels only to the extent that literature is the game that Phillip and Erik have chosen to play as adults. If nothing else, the movie affords a fascinating look at the pursuit of belles-lettres as an alternative to membership in a soccer team or a rock band. Perhaps this is what happens in Norway, where, after all, the readership for "literary" novels must be — well, no larger than it is in the United States. (At one point, an assistant editor declares that a well-known young writer would be world famous if only he wrote in English.)
Shortly after the publication of his book — Erik's is rejected — Phillip meets Kari (Viktoria Winge) and falls, we're told, obsessively in love with her. By the time we learn this, we know that Phillip has tried to kill himself and been institutionalized. The movie has a second beginning, actually, on the day of Phillip's release from the hospital. His four friends — Erik, Lars (Christian Rubeck), Henning (Henrik Elvestad), and Geir (Pål Stokka) — drive out to pick him up, establishing a guyish climate that one might expect Phillip to find stressful. There is nothing overtly sensitive or intuitive about these young men, especially under the surveillance of Lars, the enforcer of macho ideals. (In a dénouement both humorous and pitiable, Lars will wind up in the most bourgeois of marriages.) Mr Lie's Phillip is preternaturally vulnerable; the sight of him standing alone in a bathroom, or ascending in an elevator to the top of a building, is very nearly terrifying. What's interesting is that Phillip doesn't seem to want to learn from his illness; he just wants to pretend that it didn't happen. Erik is only too happy to go along with this, at least until he realizes that he can't. He can't, that is, pretend not to care for and about his friend; he can't slip back into the youthful affectation of mutual indifference. He cares so much, in fact, that he has to get out of town.
A fair amount of this movie's real estate is devoted to the thorny romance of Phillip and Kari. Ms Winge's presence is so beguiling that few viewers are likely to complain; but what her scenes with Mr Lie seem designed to prove is that Phillip can't quite live up to being the star of any show. He's a wounded soul who, at the end, depends upon her to keep him on his meds; he has also given up writing. And yet Reprise is in no way a film about the disappointment of Phillip's ambitions. If anything, its happy ending has Phillip throwing off the burden of unsuitable expecatations. That is why we begin to suspect that nice, quiet Erik, terrified, perhaps, of his own huge ambition, has all along been projecting it upon his more comfortably idiosyncratic friend. Beneath Mr Klouman-Høiner's handsome, ingenuous face, there lies a double conciousness that comes to the surface only by implication: Erik, at the end, is someone who can function only in Paris, hundreds of kilometers away from everyone he really knows.
There is not a frame of Reprise that is not spot-on about the intricate shortcomings of bright young men so exhausted by the struggle to find themselves, in the wake of thoughtless boyhood, that they can hardly see their friends more clearly than as blurred outlines. I hope that bright young women everywhere will pick up a few clues about how to deal with these difficult characters, who, with any luck, grow up to shape the societies that we live in, whether with novels or films. (May 2008)
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