The pre-credit sequence of Joachim Trier's winningly confident first film in some way feels designed to announce the director's arrival on the international movie scene. As young friends Philip and Erik simultaneously post their individual manuscripts for hopeful publication, we are taken on a energetic trip through the next couple of years, relayed in a dizzying montage of inventive audio-visual trickery worthy of Run Lola Run-era Tom Tykwer or the dynamic opening of Trainspotting. Highly engaging in itself, its dramatic trump card is that it illustrates not what actually occurred, but what in the boys' minds would have happened had reality not rudely interfered.
Fast forward six months and Erik's book has been rejected while Philip's has been published to some acclaim. So how is it that Erik and his friends are on their way to pick Philip up from an institution, to which he has been temporarily committed? What happened in that six months to transform this enthusiastic young hopeful into the bruised and insular figure he has become?
A dual timeline unfolds in which Philip's re-integration with the present is intercut with his memories of the past few months, some of which are triggered by encounters with familiar faces.
A key figure is former girlfriend Kari, whose back story unfolds in telling fragments and whose reconnection with the Philip of the here and now could well prove crucial to his recovery. Erik, meanwhile, is finally on the verge of getting his own book published, which means keeping a pledge he made some time ago to break up with his girlfriend Lillian, something he can't quite bring himself to do. The opportunity to move on presents itself when publishing assistant Johanne takes a personal interest in him, but an afternoon spent in the company of Erik's friends, particularly the provocative and unsubtle Henning, soon sends her scurrying.
In many ways Reprise bears the hallmarks an American teen movie, focussing as it does on a group of friends with mixed ambitions and varying personalities as they deal with success, failure, women, work, and life in general. But there the similarities end. Aside from the cultural shift and the older protagonists, Trier's film is handled with a Nouvelle Vague freshness and depth of character that belies the its first-feature status. The stylistic hook is in the intermittently postmodernist execution and non-linear narrative, which invigorates the storytelling and neatly reflects Philip's own broken-mirror recollection of recent past, in which memories are unexpectedly recalled through exposure to specific people and places. It's likely that not everyone will warm to this approach, which blends the familiar – freeze-frames, rapid zooms on montaged photographs, on-screen graphics to introduce characters, the present interrupted by brief moments from the past – with the more structurally disorientating, where even straight dialogue scenes are sometimes temporally fragmented to blur the barrier between experience and memory. But it's not overused or employed purely for show, and at its most effective – as in the blink-and-you'll-miss-something back-story montages – the combination of fast-cut imagery and anecdotal voice-over prove both economic in their storytelling and character-reflective in their youthful energy.
But the film engages most effectively through its characters, just as it should, and scores in the casting of Anders Danielsen Lie as the troubled Philip and Espen Klouman-Høiner as the effortlessly charming Erik, both of whom bring a warmth and reality to their roles that engage us from their opening pause by the post box. It helps no end that director Trier clearly has a very real affection for and affinity with his group of aspirational twenty-somethings (in the director's notes on this DVD, Trier states that he wanted to make a film "with characters that I know intimately") and that he not so very long ago probably walked a similar path.
Reprise scores on a number of fronts, the attention-grabbing pizzazz of its flashback montages and editing technique balanced by a calmer approach to character scenes that invite us to get closer to Philip and Erik and to identify with their life experience. It's surprisingly easy to do – we may not have had books published or suffered breakdowns at such an early age (although if you're young enough there's still time for both), but in the acutely observed character detail, Trier, co-writer Eskil Vogt and a fine ensemble of actors capture the hopes, disappointments, emotional uncertainties and the shifting nature of relationships and friendship loyalty of this time of life with unerring accuracy and unsentimental affection.
A fine anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer whose intermittently toned-down colour scheme and tweaked brightness and contrast levels look very much to be artistic choices carried over from the film print. Detail is crisp without any any obvious enhancement and film grain is minimal, save for the monochrome flashback sequences, which have been treated for that authentic Novelle Vague look.
Dolby 2.0 stereo only, but a clear, full-bodied track that doesn't leave you feeling short-changed. There is some distinct separation in places and the bass notes on some of the score's more unsettling hums are nicely rendered.
The English subtitles, it should be noted, cannot be switched off.
An energetic and well cut piece that sells the film well.
Short Film: Proctor (18:22)
Made at London's National Film & Television School and once again co-written with Eskil Vogt, this is the sort of short film that demonstrates well what can be achieved with the format. A quiet, middle-aged man goes to work as normal, but when he arrives back at his apartment block's underground car park that evening he discovers a car in flames. Strangely mesmerised by the sight, he is woken from his daze when the sprinklers kick in, and it's then that he notices... No, I think that's enough plot reveal for this one. An atmospheric psychological drama with no clear answers, this is a fine calling card for the new director and his co-writer.
An illuminating insight into Trier's approach to the project and characters.
4 posters and 3 large stills
As several other commentators have rightly stated, Trier is clearly going to be a filmmaker to watch. Reprise is an impressive debut feature that is simultaneously playful and mature, an attention-grabber with substance and heart. Dimension's DVD looks and sounds fine, with the inclusion of Trier's short film Procter is a fascinating bonus. Recommended.