Reprise / John Williams
Film Reviews | June 11, 2008 | Comments ()
Writers are notoriously hard to capture on screen. Not in a physical sense, like Bigfoot — after all, they’re normally just sitting at a keyboard somewhere — but in a spiritual sense. Whatever spirit might be alive in their work is not much on outer display. Think of Frank Langella in last year’s Starting Out in the Evening, playing a fictional novelist who quietly lumbered around and occasionally clanked on an ancient typewriter. Or Philip Seymour Hoffman, who managed to make Truman Capote seem dull for long stretches of time, which he may have been while isolated and working in Kansas. Excellent actors, hemmed in by scripts overly interested in typing.
In the energetic and poignant Reprise, Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier maneuvers around this problem by not being overly concerned — or reverent — about writing. He follows his leads, Phillip and Erik (Anders Danielsen Lie and Espen Klouman Hoiner), two young novelists in Oslo, away from their work desks and into the world of drunken dancing at wee-hour apartment parties. This is not to dismiss Trier’s interest in narrative — a main theme in the movie — but just to note his healthy avoidance of the highly uncinematic act of writing.
We begin at a mailbox, over which the 20-somethings hesitate, holding finished manuscripts. We see a montage of all that might happen to the close friends in the years after sending their work to prospective publishers — a playful sequence with voiceover that recalls the French New Wave. Returning to the present, the novels are deposited. Soon after, Phillip’s work is accepted for publication.
Being a certain kind of artist, acceptance triggers a mental collapse. He’s the young, attractive subject of magazine profiles and then he stops writing altogether. Erik’s subsequent publication is also attended by lavish press clippings, but his reaction to them is a world apart. Phillip and Erik have opposite temperaments — Phillip depressed and flinty, Erik calm and good-natured — but their friendship feels perfectly natural. Phillip’s mental imbalance might be a cliché of writerly personality, but he’s never just bratty or selfish. You always hope for him to be OK. His tortured romance with Kari (Viktoria Winge, who looks like Bjork if Bjork was from Earth) is portrayed with a shade too much sentiment, but otherwise his troubles are deftly handled.
Trier mostly focuses on the things that attend the creative life — a funny meeting with a publisher, an opening line with the opposite sex, and hero worship. Both Phillip and Erik idolize Sten Egil Dahl (Sigmund Sæverud), a reclusive character allegedly based on Norwegian poet Tor Ulven. Erik’s run-in with Dahl at a book release party is, like much of the movie, inflected with a gentle humor and a keen appreciation of social awkwardness.
When Reprise does make time for typing, the scenes are brief and meaningful, more potent for being rare. Phillip returns home from an all-night party and tentatively begins a new story. Erik goes to France to work on a follow-up, and we see his patience, his easy way with solitude, which will likely serve him well. We sense that he accepts something crucial: that his work will have to take him where the cameras can’t follow.
John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.