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  • Interview: Reprise

    Mon, 12 May 2008 13:02:11

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    Director Joachim Trier speaks with a mix of humble assuredness and palpable passion about Reprise, his award-winning film, which has garnered praise from international critics circles and spawned an excited buzz among the festival circuit. The movie, which focuses on matters of youthful valiance, creativity, friendship, and the devastating loss of innocence, is woven with subtle layers of emotion that find a way to punch you in the stomach, often unexpectedly. It opens on best friends Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner), a pair of young and idealistic would-be authors who are preparing to send their manuscripts away to the anonymous publishing gods. Months later, Phillip has been published, Erik has not, and the two must sort through the complications which accompany fame, disappointment, and romantic entanglements, among the myriad other issues facing average 20-somethings. Youthful idiocy and high-minded intellectualism meet in Phillip and Erik’s lives; they revel in discussions about literary goliaths while their existence is set to a raucous soundtrack of Norwegian punk music and a healthy dose of Joy Division. Heidegger seamlessly collides with raging parties through Trier’s refined lens.

    With the support of heavy-hitting producer Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Men) and Miramax Films, the movie will finally be released in the US on May 16th. Though summer is ruled by superheroes and sidesplitting rom-coms, if it’s a refreshing and wholly honest film you’re looking for, Reprise is likely it. ARTISTdirect sat down with Trier to talk about his unique work, which, featuring a cast of largely non-professional actors, boldly challenges boundaries of genre and filmmaking in general.

    You’ve described the film as a scrapbook, or a “mishmash” of different elements. In some ways it’s really frenetic, but it also speaks to something that’s really atmospheric about youth. Could you speak a little bit about that?

    I mean, I think by principal these days a lot of films have stagnated into a very fixed set of emotions and dramaturgical structures. Films are basically told very similarly. So I think a lot of people—it’s not only me—a lot of people would like to explore alternative ways of telling stories. The thing now, though, is that you want to still engage with an audience or you want to be specific about characters. So, with this film we felt that since the film was about these people, we’ve got to make up their identity by their cultural references and their swinging moods, you know? There’s a multiple-character-plot here. We thought that it would be good to be able to incorporate different kinds of elements into one film, so it’s almost like a little experiment we did with this one. To try to, as you say, make a scrapbook, to me means that there’s a little scene from someone’s childhood that has one texture, or there’s a scene from the present tense or “now-ness” of the story with a different look. You know, combining different things.

    Right, and a lot of this has to do with the editing.

    Absolutely. I wanted the editing and the structuring of the scenes to mirror how they are and how they speak. I’m interested in how people tell verbal stories, you know? You would easily jump between time layers when talking about someone you know. You met them yesterday, but you remember a year ago they said something else, and suddenly you’re talking about future, past, and present and it’s all jumbled, but it’s still talking about someone.

    One of the main themes [of the film] seems to be possibility. It starts out with this vast possibility, but the main characters lose a bit of that optimism as they’re faced with the realities of life.


    Do you think this is integral to coming of age?

    I think so. I think you lose some and you win some through the knowledge of the restrictions of dreams and reality in a way. One of the themes I was interested in was great expectations and the fact that people are unable to live up to their amazing hopes sometimes. It’s something I saw a lot while growing up, and I couldn’t quite figure out why some people managed to do what they wanted and others didn’t. So I wanted to look at that dynamic in the context of friendship. If you share passion with someone, really, and that person for some reason or another doesn’t want to do it anymore, like the two guys—Phillip feels that because of his mental instabilities it might be very challenging for him to keep on writing, while Erik feels completely different. And what happens? What’s left of friendship when you don’t share the passion anymore?

    This film is personal because the environment is one I know very well. I certainly feel that I know these characters somehow, from the reality that I grew up in.

    One of the characters speaks about how work can be personal without being directly autobiographical. How is that true of this work for you?

    That’s a good question. I think, to me the most personal thing you do as a filmmaker, [it’s] much more about how you look at things, just very concretely. Like, where do you put the camera, what do you prioritize to focus on, to look at? And also, there's the temporal thing. How do you decide to cut something, or what do you leave out or leave [in] a story? Those are actually emotional, personal choices for filmmakers, particularly if you want to make a more personal kind of movie. But this film is also personal because the environment of the character is one that I—me and my co-writer (Eskil Vogt)—know very well. And it’s not like we have experienced these exact events, but I certainly feel that I know these characters somehow, from the reality that I grew up in.

    Some of my favorite scenes were those by the water, or the party scenes, which seemed very organic.

    Yeah? Great.

    I was wondering what it was like to shoot those, because they seem really improvisational.

    They’re all very written, but still—I like to have a very tight structure and then let it loose a bit on set and see if something new arrives, if something else can come up if you have the time. That’s wonderful, to maybe do a version of a scene that’s more script-like and then try a version that’s maybe looser, and combining them through editing is interesting. But by the sea, certainly I found that really hard. It’s seven characters at play and the light was going and coming because of clouds, and it was kind of mad. It was the first day of [shooting], so I’m very glad you enjoyed that scene. I had fun making it. Those were quite tough, actually.

    You’re working with a cast of mainly non-professional actors, so even though you say the overall story is very tightly structured, do you find that you adapt the story to the actors? Or do you allow for improvisation from them?

    I don’t allow for much improvisation when we’re shooting, but I adapted the script for them. So what we did instead was, we had the script, we spent a lot of time casting, a lot of time work-shopping them before we gave them the parts, which is kind of a luxury you can do when you don’t have professionals because they’re curious and eager to do it. So, you can kind of try things out a bit before you give them the part, and it also gives them a confidence when they do get the part—“I know how to do this a little bit.” I think in the first round of casting if you just give someone a part, they might be too insecure to even accept it. So, after the cast was set—and we always knew we were going to do this—we looked at the tapes, me and the co-writer, of improvisational testing or different dynamic versions of the scenes, and then we refined the script a bit so that it would fit [the actors], and then we shot it. So it’s a bit of both. But on set, I don’t believe—I think that improvisation takes a special talent. And particularly from actors I find sometimes that professional actors are, paradoxically enough, easier to improvise with because it’s sort of an art. You’ve kind of got to write the script as you go along. It really takes a special talent.

    One of the things I found most fascinating was the dynamic between men and women, and it’s something that you don’t romanticize or cast a glossy veneer over at all. I was wondering if that a reaction to other depictions you had seen, and why you chose to create the dynamic that you did.

    Some of this was just wanting to do a portrayal of more sensitive aspects of guys, but also girls, and I chose to do it very much from the guy’s perspective for this film. Some of the girls I intentionally, literally cut out. I mean, [with] Erik’s girlfriend, the logic is she’s not even really a part of his life, because he’s kind of self-absorbed for really the first half of the movie, so I literally don’t show her face, for example. While with Kari (Viktoria Winge) and Phillip, that’s a different story. In that story, I think she’s stronger. She carries the fate of that relationship and he’s the doubter, so to speak, so that has its own particular logic that we wanted to explore.

    Well, Phillip in particular has a really difficult time accepting the present moment, and he has this kind of childish nostalgia. He’s literally trying to recreate moments—


    —for himself that occurred for him in the past. Was this just him not wanting to grow up and face the present moment?

    Absolutely. I think in his particular case, he’s ill. He’s in a post-psychotic state; he’s on medication and he’s trying to regain some sort of balance in his life and also has a sort of identity crisis with that. It’s really hard to be in a relationship when you don’t even know who you kind of are yourself, I think. So I think it’s more about that, this slow discovery that longing back to who he was won’t help him. I’m interested in memory and identity. Those are themes I’ve explored quite a lot in short films I’ve done before, but also, [they give themselves] to film as a medium, in the context. There’s certainly something about film and representing the past. We look now to movies as a reference to what has been, a bit like memory, so I think there’s something there that’s fun to play around with.

    Right. Kind of a snapshot of the moment.

    True. Still photography does it in a different way which is also philosophical and interesting, but cinema is wonderful. It’s about representation and recreation and all these things, themes that are played in films whether you deal with them or not.

    Also, this film doesn’t feel very culturally specific. Especially for an American watching it, it seems like it says something larger about youth.

    That’s funny! We tried to be very culturally specific, and then we ended up actually doing something that seems more universal, and that’s the paradox. But maybe, it's because Norway has such a lack of cultural identity that a lot of young people look to other countries.

    Is that where the musical influences came in, in that they’re really reaching toward popular culture, especially English language music in particular?

    Yeah. What is it that Wim Wenders said back in the ‘80s? “America has colonized our subconscious,” or something. I grew up listening to a lot of British and American music. But there’s also the Norwegian punk band in the film. It’s a combination.

    How has the reception been for you so far, at least in the States?

    In the States, amazing. There seems to be a good buzz around; that’s what I hear. Fingers crossed for the release, but I’ve met a lot of enthusiastic journalists, and I’m very grateful for that, because the film will need it. It will need that kind of support. It’s not easy releasing a foreign-language film. But with Scott Rudin and Miramax behind it, that’ll help, surely.

    Do you see yourself exploring ideas of youth cross-culturally in the English language as a director moving forward?

    In terms of future projects?


    Yeah! I would be interested. I think American actors are wonderful and I would love to try and work with them. But having said that, I also come from a very prvileged position of having had complete creative control over Reprise, so that’s what I’m used to, and I know that’s not always the case. It’s trying to find the right balance of things when working with people over here, possibly.

    Is there anything you have slated coming up?

    I think it’s a bit early, but we’re writing something in English, actually, me and the co-writer, and there have been some generous offers from American producers, but we haven’t quite found the right thing yet. So it seems likely it’ll be the script we’re working on.

    —Heidi Atwal

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    Tags: Joachim Trier, Anders Danielsen Lie, Espen Klouman-Hoiner, Eskil Vogt, Viktoria Winge

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