by Mel Valentin
SCREENED AT THE 2007 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Directed and co-written by Joachim Trier, "Reprise" is a Norwegian film that semi-successfully explores the friendship between two aspiring writers and their struggles with rejection, success, fame, writer’s block, and clinical depression. Drawing from his own experiences as a skateboarder and his interest in punk rock and mixing and matching a collage of filmmaking techniques, Trier crafts an often engaging, occasionally insightful look into the Norwegian writer’s scene. Unfortunately, "Reprise’s" early promise gives way to a morass of clichés and arthouse ambiguity where Trier should have taken a more focused, clearer approach.Mixing wry voice over narration with wish-fulfillment fantasy montage, Reprise follows Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) as they make the momentous decision to submit their respective manuscripts to local book publishers. Erik is less sure of his ability as a novelist, while Philip is, at least on the surface, more confident in his and Erik’s abilities. Erik’s suspicions are confirmed, however, when the publisher rejects his manuscript and accepts Phillip’s novel. Phillip’s novel is well received by critics and the reading public. Erik questions whether he should give up and find another profession.
"An ode to the French New Wave that just misses."
Phillip’s success, however, triggers long-dormant neuroses, including depression and an unhealthy obsession with his girlfriend, Kari (Viktoria Winge), and writer’s block. Whatever the reason, Phillip goes on a self-destructive binge. Erik finds him and Phillip is sent to a mental hospital to recover. As the months pass, Erik visits Phillip regularly until finally, Phillip is ready to return home and restart his life and his writing career. Erik brings their mutual friends, Henning (Henrik Elvestad), Lars (Christian Rubeck), Morten (Odd Magnus Williamson), and Geir (Pål Stokka), to pick Phillip up from the hospital and help coax him back to a semblance of normality.
As Phillip struggles to find meaning and tentatively renews contact with Kari, Erik’s literary career takes off. His first novel gets accepted for publication. Meetings with editors, television appearances, and reviews of his first novel follow. Imbued with a sense of himself as an “important writer” with lots to say, Erik decides to focus on writing to the exclusivity of his personal life. He even seeks out the advice of a famous author, Sten Egil Dahl (Sigmund Sæverud). As Erik’s success grows, Phillip can’t get unstuck personally or professionally and he becomes increasingly despondent and self-destructive.
Just reading through this synopsis probably tips you off as to Reprise’s limited appeal, even for art film/indie enthusiasts. Films centered on writers have to overcome the fundamental problem of how to present an interior, subjective process that’s inherently non-cinematic. Filmmakers can either use subjective cues and fantasy scenes or focus on a writer’s life outside of the writing process, as Reprise does. Taking the second approach, though, opens writer/director Joachim Trier to charges of self-indulgence and navel-gazing. After all, Phillip and Erik’s respective self-absorption makes them characters whose fates we aren’t invested in, at least not to the extent or level that Trier would want from us.
Trier has another, perhaps more important problem. Once Reprise hits the midway mark, it loses momentum, becoming listless until Trier trots out a string of relationship-based clichés that seemingly solve Phillip’s personal problems along with their respective friends, none of whom make more than a momentary, fragmentary impact on us, since they’re barely onscreen and when they are, Trier doesn’t do enough to distinguish. Proving that he doesn’t know where to take Reprise, Trier ends with a scene that would have fit perfectly in a romantic comedy, a marriage between two minor characters that once hated each other but have since set aside their intellectual and ideological differences.Trier, though, shows promise as a filmmaker. Borrowing tropes and techniques from the French New Wave, Trier manages to make "Reprise" modestly engaging for most of its running time. Trier uses voice over narration, freeze frames, title cards, fantasy sequences, verbal humor, and a spot-on soundtrack (mostly courtesy of Joy Division and New Order), to keep [i]Reprise[/i] from becoming stagnant, at least early on. Too bad that Trier’s let down by his own screenplay, which he co-wrote with Eskil Vogt. With a bit more focus and a stronger ending, "Reprise" could have been much better, not to mention heralded Trier as a major new talent in European cinema (almost, but not quite).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15025&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/02/07 14:36:30