Reprise Review

I'm grateful for Noel Megahey's review of the R2 DVD of Reprise on this site because it means I can send readers who want basic information on the film in that direction, allowing my own reaction to skip around a bit. One thing Noel wrote that I can't agree with, however, is the characterisation of the film as being "angry," a term that seems to imply a strong level of resentment or active rage. In cinema, the word is often associated with the British New Wave and its "angry young man" movies like Look Back in Anger and This Sporting Life. Those films almost always have a thread of class or economic frustration running through them. The male protagonists are rebelling against something societal, with their volatility directed towards the world at large. But the struggle is usually an internal one, and their anger becomes brutally self-destructive. By contrast, and I may be alone in this belief, the young men at the centre of Reprise have nothing in society to blame or reform. To slightly paraphrase, it is not in their stars, but in their selves. And not only their selves, but their own flaws and not ones borne from class or economics.

As such, I see nothing angry in Reprise. I see confusion, I see struggles to adjust, but I don't see anger. The film's two protagonists, Phillip and Erik, are both young men, 23 years old, who aspire to write. Both seem to come from financially comfortably backgrounds. They're West Side city dwellers who still live with their mothers. Phillip has a book published while Erik's manuscript was rejected. When we enter the film proper, Phillip is being released from a mental institution after struggling through his post-publication glow. Kari, the girl he'd been dating, is blamed as an object of Phillip's obsession and an apparent factor in the breakdown. This is all laid out bit by bit from director and co-writer Joachim Trier. The gathering by the viewer is deliberate, but never plods, and Trier's mood seems to be one of assured straightforwardness. Throughout, his film is impressive in its commitment to balancing plot and character and building each with a literate maturity. A more relaxed Trainspotting seems the popular point of comparison, but Fellini's I Vitelloni, with that film's reluctance to entirely break free from juvenile nonsense despite it being a very adult portrayal of male arrested development, might be a closer fit.

The Fellini film didn't intend to focus on the potential of youth in the way Reprise does, however, and Trier only keeps the debauchery in the background, as a means of a lifestyle. You get the feeling that Trier knows his characters so well that there must be an autobiographical element here. In a sense, the basic themes of Reprise concern friendship and the extent of being defined by others. Phillip's best friend Erik has his previously rejected book approved for publication just as Phillip is rejoining the fray. When Erik is at his publisher's office, he's told that his book is reminiscent of Phillip's. The two friends also share a favourite author, a somewhat obscure and reclusive writer whose style both may have borrowed liberally from in their own work. That feeling of a shared sensibility among a small collective, with even the two's less esteemed friends singling out another young novelist's certain buffoonery, emphasises some of the ideas I think Trier is interested in here. Moreover, the outgrowing of that collective as one's own life takes shape seems to be the primary conflict for all the main characters, to varying extents.

Phillip's psychiatric problems seem as related to anxiety over following up the reception of his first book as anything else. His attention is deliberately turned to Kari because she's an escape from the expectations of a follow-up. They took a vacation to Paris soon after meeting, but that trip eventually becomes symbolic of something else. Not only does Paris serve as the artistic refuge that isn't, but it's given false healing powers, first by Phillip and then Erik. Some photos Phillip took of Kari were taken down by his mother while he was institutionalised and, in a poignant attempt to recapture both the relationship and the writing talent he once had, he returns to Paris with Kari to recreate the exact shots. Similarly, when Erik is contemplating a next move after his book is published, it's Paris he sees as the point of salvation. The film's narrator fills us in on an imagined scenario where Erik can thrive artistically and return home again to unchanged dynamics. It's as though the idea of losing one's sense of self through slowly dying friendships causes as much anxiety as professional responsibility. Or that they're entirely interconnected for Erik and Phillip.

There's also this idea that the two men are working from the same place. Erik is only able to improve his manuscript while Phillip is away, but, once back, Phillip now has no desire to write. So where they once needed each other's support, it eventually comes to the point that they believe their work is best accomplished without any interference. This lends further credence to how I perceive of Reprise as being, essentially, a movie about the influence of our external lives on our internal desires and how that translates into artistic creation. That may be a tad lofty for a feature directing debut, but this really is a fine film. Trier's choices are so diametrically opposite from how this film would exist if made in the English language that it's impossible to accurately compare it to recent releases. The exhilaration taken away from Reprise feels indebted to the French New Wave, particularly Jules and Jim, but without the smugness or interest in genre homage.

These characters would seem to inspire indifference given their financial security and relatively minor problems, but they're written and inhabited well enough to keep the viewer truly concerned. The film wisely doesn't ask for sympathy or even spend time on actual conflict. It instead allows us to grow into liking the protagonists, beginning with an opening scene that thrillingly makes use of freeze frame and black and white photography. Again, Hollywood or even independent filmmakers would almost certainly have ruined so much of what makes Reprise special by changing the tone and atmosphere of the film. The style of the initial sequence isn't really repeated and needn't be for fear of sensory overkill. The remainder of the film is less inventive and more straightforward, but this too works in its favour by establishing an implicit trust with the viewer. Trier grabs our attention immediately and then proves himself capable of keeping it without the need for flashy sleight of hand. His film is a reminder that not every movie feels the need to cling to cliche or overreach its ambitions.

The Disc

As mentioned above, Reprise was released in R2 by the Diffusion label back in February of this year. The film quietly played in U.S. cinemas this past May and now has a DVD release in R1 from Miramax. It is presented here in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen televisions. The progressive transfer is superb, looking very film-like and retaining some grain. Detail also impresses and the frequent close-ups are sufficiently sharp. Colours are displayed without issue. The palette used for interiors is often austere or cold, and only the darkest of scenes tend to obscure the look of natural lighting.

The Norwegian Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounded excellent to my ears. Occasional bursts of rock music are both appropriately loud and balanced effectively in the mix. The audio overall does a nice job of complementing the images seen on the screen. It's mostly dialogue (and in a language I don't understand, at that), but the ambient noises are used quite well. Subtitles are provided, and optional, in English and Spanish, as well as an English for the hearing impaired track. They are a golden yellow colour.

The R2 Diffusion release only had minimal extras, but this dual-layered R1 disc includes a multi-part featurette on the making of the film and several deleted scenes. "Casting Reprise" (7:19) details the process of finding the lead actors from literally hundreds of hopefuls. "All in Trier's Details" (8:04) looks at the film's cinematography, set design, music, and editing, which took five months to complete and is probably key to much of the picture's success. In "Anecdotes" (11:56), Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt sit down to discuss the arduous journey their idea took to make it to screen. At one point early on, the two realised they'd end up with a 1,200 page script if they continued at the rate they were going. The last of the featurette parts, which are only playable separately for some reason, is "Love's Not Easy" (4:04) and explores the choreography and control that went into the film's Paris-set sex scene.

Twelve deleted scenes (16:32), of varying quality in both presentation and accomplishment, further bolster the bonus features. Some are enhanced in anamorphic widescreen and some aren't and have time stamps. Finally, an eccentric reel of the actors in the film exclaiming the English word "sorry," usually after a mistake, is given emphasis in "So Sorry" (1:07). Miramax's parent company Disney has also thrown on several trailers, or sneak peeks, presumably because viewers of Reprise might be interested not just in the forthcoming film Blindness, but, also, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Wall-E, and the television shows Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money. And while I'm complaining, the anti-tobacco The Truth ad that's been on seemingly every Walt Disney Video Home Entertainment release for awhile now is both puzzling and annoying. People who pay money for studio product shouldn't be forced (and this spot plays automatically upon inserting the disc) into watching any of these commercials that are in no way related to the film they've just purchased the right to watch. Also, the Reprise cover is dreadful. Thanks.

Final Thoughts

Reprise is an exceptionally good debut feature from Joachim Trier. The Norwegian film is smart without being pretentious and manages to borrow some of the youthful exhilaration from the best of the French New Wave. Miramax's R1 release not only presents the film without error, it also includes some decent extra features not found on the UK R2. Overall, an excellent film worth taking a chance on for those who enjoy movies about young adulthood.

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