Combining pop whimsy with nuanced characters, Joachim Trier‘s “Reprise” constructs a simultaneously moving and satiric portrayal of two young struggling writers, Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielson Lie), in Norway’s chic modern professional scene. After a warm reception at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 and a similar response later that year at New Directors/New Films, “Reprise” remained without distribution until producer Scott Rudin, a fan of the film, pressured Miramax‘s Daniel Battsek to purchase it. Incessantly lively, filled with contemporary references, and containing a number of creative flourishes to help give the heavier ideas a sense of levity, “Reprise” marks Trier’s directorial debut. In a conversation with indieWIRE last week at the Soho Grand Hotel, the filmmaker matched the positive qualities that make his movie so distinct.
iW:A lot of movies about the writing process don’t work. How did you work these two characters into a credible literary environment?
Yeah, it’s a problem — if you’re going to have someone (in a film) read from the greatest novel, then you have to write the greatest novel. We’re avoiding that. We’re more interested in the dynamics of composition than we are in exploring exactly the contents of the books, but there are references to various writing traditions in the film, and a lot of those are, I guess, local references. They’re a language-oriented literature, rather than the social-realist tradition. It’s insinuated in the film that (Eric’s book) ‘Prosopopeya’ has greater literary ambitions than being experimental, and it seems like the critics don’t think it works. So we’re playing around with a great literary person’s desire to do the radically different story, which is kind of self-referential, because we’re playing around with little things here and there. It’s about very intellectual characters. We wanted to take that seriously, but we wanted to laugh a bit as well.
iW:You say in the press notes for the film that you wanted to depict a “specific cultural environment.” You have, but at the same time, certain aspects of these characters, with their hip lifestyles and romantic diversions, suggest a universality.
Well, that’s what I hope. I think you can only reach that through being specific. For people to recognize details, you need there to be details. Somebody mentioned, “Oh, I have a friends in the Lower East Side who want to write and they are so much like (the characters in the film).” Someone said something similar in Turkey six months ago. I’m very happy to hear that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every place is the same, but that it’s translatable. People understand the theme, even if they’re wearing different kinds of shoes.
iW: Do you look at Phillip and Erik as symbols of different mentalities in the literary world?
I think of them as having a dynamic friendship. They are definitely different. Erik needs to work more with craft, training, and go that long, slow path, while Phillip is leaning towards spontaneity — but that’s also a problem in his life.
iW: Which of them more closely resembles you?
I don’t know. I never made that choice, nor did my co-writer. We put ourselves into all the characters.
iW: So you created them from scratch?
Aspects of people I know. When you criticize the characters, you criticize yourself as well, and play with that. Erik’s neurotic side is a particularly Norwegian shyness. All kinds of things come into it.
iW:There appears to be a very conscious shift in tone — from comic to dramatic — halfway through the film.
This was our main ambition. We were interested in exploring contradictory feelings, like extreme sadness combined with the lightness of silly jokes. I think this is how people are. They shift between extreme emotions, particularly at that age. We wanted to make a story with dirty formalism. A mixture of scattered minds. The film form should portray the content. I never understood that dichotomy. What is formal content? It’s hard for me to differentiate. I feel that how you portray something in a film is as essential as what you’re telling. If it’s inseparable, it’s probably working.
iW:The opening cleverly frames both authors in their respective book jackets, as though their photos are alive. The only other time I think I’ve seen that technique is in the Harry Potter films.
Oh, I didn’t see that! Are you serious? That’s hilarious. Usually, when I sit down with journalists, they go, “So. Godard.” But this is cool. I must see Harry Potter now. My girlfriend loves that stuff.
iW:Little visual flourishes like this happen throughout your film.
We have a lot of that. We’re film buffs. Every scene should have some sort of concept or idea of how it should be made. Cinema now is a machine. You can basically get dialogue, get a set of shots, do your reverse shots, seamlessly cut it together, and that’s the machine. That’s not expressive. It depends: Some films should be transparent. Not all films.
iW:Since this movie has a lot of youth culture in it, how does that scene in Norway compare to the one in the United States?
It’s a tough question. I’m sure there are similarities and differences. It’s funny to see people in Paris, New York and Oslo all listening to the same music. In a way, that’s kind of beautiful. It doesn’t mean the world is becoming all the same. It’s nice to see there’s someone who could be the friends of these guys living in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side.
iW:There are references to political temperaments in the dialogue, particularly Bush and the World Bank. Do you hear these conversations often?
Generally, I think in Norway among young people it’s been like that for many, many years. There’s a leaning toward the left, a socialist attitude that’s sympathetic.
iW:Do you think there’s a political component to the film?
I can say for sure that there’s not a very pro-bourgeousie message in the film. There’s a negation of that. It’s not a film where I’m trying to say, “If you get with the right girl and settle down, that’s great.” I’m not doing a “Good Will Hunting” sort of thing. “Be normal, be with a girl, and all those other intellectual aspirations will follow.” No, it’s hard work. If you want to be a writer, you have to sacrifice some things. I’m trying to express some sort of attitude. Politics — yeah, how can we not be political? We’re at least trying to play around with our representation of reality, and that’s, in some way, political.
iW:When you introduced the film at Tribeca Cinema, you joked that the 1,000 people who auditioned for roles represented half of Norway. Is it hard to be a filmmaker there?
It’s easy and hard. It’s hard because you don’t have much choice with actors. It’s a smaller margin. But it’s a free environment in terms of creativity. Government funds that don’t need to be held back, so you can actually make films from your own tastes.
iW:So you want to stay there?
No, I think I’m going to do an American film next. We’re going to try to do it in a way so that we can try to stay personal in the ways that we think. We’ll see what happens. I lived in London for several years, and I miss working in English. You have a mythology that you can rest on, which we don’t have in Norwegian. Now we have this thing we can rest on, where people say, “Oh, your dialogue worked.” Let’s see what happens. I also have a Norwegian side project.
iW:You recently introduced your grandfather Eric Lochen’s film “Remonstrance” at Lincoln Center. How did that go?
It’s funny that you ask. I’ve declined any offer to do it in Norway. It’s been too personal. He passed away when I was nine. I didn’t know him as a filmmaker. I got to know his films as an adult. It was very moving. Richard Pena has a wonderful knowledge of film. My family was thrilled. They were like, “They’re screening Eric’s films in New York?” It was a bit treat for me. The same night Miramax screened “Reprise,” I could go and pay respect to my grandfather. It felt right. Over here, he’s not known. In Norway, I get compared to him sometimes, and it’s kinda tricky. We make different films, but we have similar ideas. Reading some of his interviews to prepare for the ones I’m doing now, I see that we have more in common that I thought.