Saturday, January 17, 2009

Short Take: Reprise

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I'm feeling a little bored right now, so I figured I might as well do a little movie mini-review before I get ready for bed (gotta work tomorrow; such is the strange schedule of a member of the journalism field). I'm not sure if I'm going to make this a regular feature, but it'd probably be nice to toss off these short takes once in a while.

I saw Joachim Trier's highly lauded debut feature Reprise earlier today on DVD, and for the most part I was quite impressed with its tricky mixture of formal/narrative playfulness and emotional directness. It's a portrait of two young budding writers and their torturous self-doubts; one, Erik, is taking his first, tentative dips into the book-publishing world, while the other, Phillip, has already experienced literary success and has allowed it to tear him up inside both emotionally and physically (the film follows the latter's attempts at trying to get back on track in his life after a major mental breakdown.)

Much has been made of the film's shout-outs to Truffaut's Jules and Jim, and its formal daring does suggest a bit of the French New Wave to it. But Trier quickly establishes his own distinctive, lovely moods and rhythms, melancholy yet alive to the characters' feelings, and inventive in the ways it portrays those feelings onscreen. Many of the characters are concerned---sometimes paralyzingly so---with the past, the future and the unknown: with trying to recreate the past; trying to decide how to shape their future; wondering, and worrying about, what may lie ahead for them. Trier takes those cues and toys with chronology throughout the film, creating a sense of temporal displacement at certain points as past and present occasionally get momentarily blurred; there are also a couple of bravura montages that explore the consequences of decisions that may or may not be made. None of this formal experimentation ever feels gratuitously show-offy; it all feels of a piece with Trier's modest but potent exploration of how his youthful characters respond to the vast amount of possibilities in their burgeoning adult lives.

Perhaps its most memorable sequence is one in which Phillip takes girlfriend Kari---who helped trigger the original psychosis---to Paris to try to methodically recreate the romantic experience they had three years ago in the same city as a newly formed couple. The attempts culminate in a powerfully sensual sex scene in which both of them try to rehash the sizzle of their first sexual encounter in Paris; suffice it to say, the spark is gone, but the scene is remarkable nevertheless for its emotional frankness and erotic immediacy.

Reprise ends on one of those montages of a possible future, concluding Trier's vibrant little portrait with neither obvious hope nor despairing pain---though it does come after a particularly painful moment for one of its main characters---but with either possibility up in the air. The lack of a clear resolution, of course, is deliberate; as the film eloquently suggests, who ever knows what will come next for anyone?

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