The COMMUNITY of international cinema could certainly do worse for an ambassador than Joachim Trier, director and co-writer of "Reprise," his debut feature. The tall and lanky 34-year-old, who as a teenager was skateboarding champion of Norway, is dapper, thoughtfully playful and unassumingly charming, a far cry from the pedantic, wearying didacticism so often associated by general audiences with European art-house offerings.
"Reprise" arrives in U.S. theaters with the imprimatur of Scott Rudin, fresh off his Oscar triumph for "No Country for Old Men," credited as an executive producer. As the film begins, two twentysomething men (played by Anders Danielsen Lie and Espen Klouman Hoiner) stand at an Oslo mailbox, ready to send off the manuscripts they are convinced will make them each literary sensations. One will have his book published and achieve instant acclaim before suffering a mental and emotional collapse, while the other will continue to languish in stable obscurity for the time being.
Full of flashbacks and possible flash-forwards, strange asides, freeze-frames, on-screen titles and references to specific bands, books and movies, the film has an assured style that is at once wildly free-wheeling and meticulously structured. It all adds up to a look at the young person's process of becoming, how we each evolve into the people we are, with a surprising mix of humor, poignancy and sympathy.
"One Norwegian critic said that 'Reprise' was about how the artist is just an image," said Trier during a recent stop in Los Angeles. "But I actually think there's a genuine yearning in these guys to try to do something real, and it's just really hard these days, with a sort of post-ironic society.
"It's about the constructed-ness of identity. What shoes you wear and what records you listen to become who you are, but it's also about trying to transcend that and do something more sincere. It's the yearning, at least, that's in the film."
In its attention to the group dynamics of friendship among young people, the ways in which relationships fall in and out of favor and importance, "Reprise" focuses on that time in life when a specific rock show or a certain party can come to seem like a turning point, an event of life-altering significance way beyond just a night out.
"There are so many films that try to articulate something specific about guy-girl relationships," said Trier, "and I think in my 20s what really changed things for me were certain friendships I made or certain things that didn't work out with my group of friends. These were very important events in my life."
Worthy of analysis?
By FOCUSING on the ambitions and inner lives of educated, urbane young men, Trier has inadvertently added to a debate ongoing, in no small irony, in literary circles. The recent release of Keith Gessen's debut novel, "All the Sad Young Literary Men," has sparked discussion as to whether the artistic aspirations and emotional convolutions of middle- to upper-class lives are even worthy of portrayal with depth and seriousness, or if such topics too easily fall into bourgeois solipsism.
"I think there's a lot of drama in middle-class life," countered Trier. "Norway's almost like hyper middle class; from the outside it's this seemingly perfect, socialized democratic place where young people can have free access to all kinds of educations, and you have government support of the arts, and everything seems so neat and perfect. But in the middle of that there's a lot of panic among young people, an inability to live up to the expectations they have of their own lives.
"There is something interesting about people who have the privilege of self-reflection and then figure out that knowing about yourself doesn't help you a bit."
Trier knows the terrain of comfortable intelligentsia well. Both his parents worked in film, as did his grandfather, and director Lars Von Trier is a distant relative. Trier began his career making skate videos and short films before moving to London in his early 20s to study at the National Film and Television School. He and his co-writer and old friend, Eskil Vogt, worked on the script for "Reprise" over a number of years. After cultivating a bank of ideas, they wrote 20 pages before realizing that, proportional to the total amount of material they had, the script would eventually be 1,200 pages long.
No small amount of self-editing followed, but they still allowed themselves the freedom to include material that most any professional story editor would have wanted taken out -- secondary characters, voice-overs, extraneous anecdotes. Trier felt it could all inform the narrative of the two main characters, if not in a direct way then in a cumulatively emotional one.
"We wanted to encapsulate our associative thinking in the narrative, to just include people inside the characters' minds more."
In MANY ways, "Reprise" is also an example of an increasingly beleaguered art-house film culture actually working (provided audiences find the film). Premiering in 2006, the movie screened at a few high-profile international festivals, including Toronto and Sundance, and then showed as part of the 2007 edition of the prestigious New Directors/New Films series in New York City. A few well-placed rave reviews and the support of Rudin led to "Reprise" being picked up by Miramax Films. "Reprise" also won three of Norway's Oscar-equivalent Amanda awards, for screenplay, director and film.
While conventional wisdom holds that any movie that takes a while to be released must be some sort of problem child, Miramax President Daniel Battsek insisted that is not the case here.
"Obviously, if you're in the business, you're aware of when it first screened," noted Battsek, while adding that any seeming delay in the release of the film was a matter of details and timing. "But to me it feels absolutely timeless, both in the immediacy of the last year or so, but also in that it could have been made 10 or 20 years ago, or five or 10 years into the future.
"Though it's very specific to its time and place, it feels much more worldly than that, and feels completely at home in New York or Los Angeles or Boston or anywhere across America."
It is that blend of the particular and the universal, as well as its mix of energetic wit and overcast melancholy, that make it seem possible that "Reprise" might find an audience beyond what one might initially imagine for a film about aspiring Norwegian novelists. Similar in that way perhaps to "Y tu mama tambien," it is a foreign-language film with the potential to appeal to a broader audience than usual.
"I would hope young people would see this not as the old, dreary, dandruff-on-the-shoulders, slow European film," said Trier, before conscientiously adding that he is a fan of older art cinema such as "Last Year at Marienbad."
"I wanted to make something more sexy and relevant to people."