The first feature film from Joaquim Trier isn’t short of confidence, ambition, technique or lacking in ability. If anything there is some initial concern rather that Reprise is the work of a young first-time director trying a bit too hard to impress, a new kid on the block of Norwegian cinema who has something to prove and who is going to rock the establishment a bit, and as a result throws everything at the screen into a sprawling bildungsroman of a movie. In Trier’s case however, this isn’t just a matter of being able to show what he can do, but is actually wholly relevant to the subject of Reprise.
It’s the technique though that hits you straight in the face however when you are initially introduced to Philip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner), two 23 year-old friends in Oslo, both aspiring writers who are about to send off their first manuscript on the same day. Freeze-framing them as they arrive at the same post-box at the same time, an omniscient narrator jumps in at this point, and – before you have even got to know who these characters are – flash-forwards the action Jean-Pierre Jeunet fashion in black-and-white to the likely trajectory that each of their lives is going to take in the years ahead should their novel be accepted and meet the public acclaim they each individually merit. Bringing us back to earth, it is revealed that only one of them is actually published – Erik’s manuscript is rejected, while Philip’s is published to acclaim and success. Unable to handle the success however, Philip has a mental breakdown.
Both men are however given another chance to make something of their lives. Erik revises his novel and resubmits it, while Philip tries to pull his life back together and revive his relationship with Kari (Viktoria Winge), a relationship that may have in some way been part of the reason for his breakdown. Erik meets and hopes to be held in the same esteem as Sten Egil Dahl (Sigmund Sæverud), a reclusive genius who is a hero to both the young men. Philip meanwhile takes Kari back to Paris where they first fell in love, revisiting all the same places and even re-taking the photographs that have been removed from his room by his mother under the advice of his psychiatrist. Neither Philip’s nor Erik’s future however turns out quite the way they saw it.
Reprise is very much a young man’s film, disdainful of the past, aware of the potentiality that lies within and determined to make a difference. Philip, Erik and their friends – all of whom have come to know each other through their following of a punk band - are all dismissive of the attitudes and conformity of their parent’s world, of being trapped in the safe, bland world of Volvos, pan-pipe music and Chris de Burgh CDs. They all see better, more meaningful lives ahead of themselves, but like the ironical punk rock music that evolves into cynical commercialism, their ideals have to inevitably give way to a certain amount of compromise. When Erik’s book is published, he feels that it is necessary to break up with his “nice” girlfriend Lillian, since a life of comfortable domesticity would mean the death of artistic integrity, but that’s easier said than done. Although the young men berate each other for actions that they consider “selling out”, they each have to make similar decisions as they come to find their own place in the world and their own way of fitting into it.
Like its characters Reprise is bold, angry, and wants to make a statement. It doesn’t feel restricted to merely following the characters and watching them develop, it flashes back to significant events in the past that have shaped them, and leaps forward to consider what may or may not happen to them. It has a narrator step in and take control of the situation, reading the characters inner thoughts and feelings, assessing their integrity, their potential and whether their motivations are dictated by idealised romanticism or selfishness and bitter cynicism. It’s all very clever and well-intentioned, but is the film’s traditional reliance on form and technique not also something of a sell-out? Like its young characters, evidently from the same background and class as Trier, the director is clearly willing to take those risks. Reprise is a bold statement, a demonstration of potential, of breaking away from the past and hopefully saying something meaningful without being too poetic. Like an assessment that is made of Erik’s book however, it’s not quite the life-altering work of genius it might like to think it is, but it’s good and shows a lot of promise.
Reprise is released in the UK by Diffusion. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
In visual terms often a dazzling film, Reprise benefits here from a transfer that is nothing less than perfect. Presented anamorphically at a ratio of 1.85:1 and progressively encoded, the careful cool bluish colour grading of the film is immaculately reproduced here. The image is sharp and detailed, with fine black levels and there is not a mark, dustspot or flicker of macro-compression artefacting in evidence anywhere. The only blight on the image presentation is the irremovable English subtitles.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which is strong and clear, giving the film a very upfront and direct sound. The film could undoubtedly benefit from a more discreet surround mix, but unfortunately there is no 5.1 option available.
English subtitles are provided in a clear, white font, but are mandatory and cannot be removed.
As supporting features for the film itself, there is a Trailer (1:41), presented anamorphically, which sets out the tone and content of the film well, a couple of pages of text Director’s Notes, detailing the intent and treatment of the film, and a Gallery of 8 poster and still images.
Additionally, as part of Diffusion’s initiative to support short films, Trier’s 2002 English language short feature Procter (18:22) is included. Unexpectedly returning home from the office, a businessman discovers a burning car in the underground garage of his apartment block and an unmanned camera filming it. He takes the camera home and reviews the footage leading up to the incident, and finds the content deeply unsettling. The film is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1, but is not anamorphically enhanced.
It seems like Joachim Trier’s is trying to take on rather a lot in his first full-length feature film, flitting through not only his characters lives -examining their pasts and extrapolating out into their futures – but on top of that he attempts to satirise class distinctions, middle-class attitudes, the literary establishment and all the pretension and mediocrity that along goes with it, asking how a young person can fit into such a society and retain one’s ideals, one’s integrity and even one’s sanity. It’s a credit to the director that he manages to draw all these themes together into a coherent, intelligent, humorous and often dazzling film. Diffusion’s presentation on DVD does justice to the film and presents a fine bonus in the form of one of the director’s earlier short films.