Norway (105 mi) 2006 d: Joachim Trier Official site [us]
Norway (105 mi) 2006 d: Joachim Trier Official site [us]
Inexplicably, this film opened very favorably in Europe two years ago but is only now finding its way to an American release despite having enormous energy and appeal. Joachim Trier, born in Denmark and twice Norway’s skateboard champion during his teens while also making several skateboard videos at the time, is a cousin of Danish director Lars von Trier, who at some point in his life felt the need to add the mysterious “von” to his name. Since the mid 90’s, Danish films have undergone a revival on the world’s stage, producing some of the most prominent directors working today, such as Lars von Trier’s THE KINGDOM (1994), BREAKING THE WAVES (1996), DANCER IN THE DARK (2000), and DOGVILLE (2003), Thomas Vinterberg’s THE CELEBRATION (1998), Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s MIFUNE (1999), Lone Scherfig’s ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS (2001), Susanne Bier’s BROTHERS (2005) and AFTER THE WEDDING (2006), not to mention Lucas Moodysson in Swedish/Danish co-productions. What all these films have in common are intelligent scripts and expert direction laying the foundation for some extraordinary performances, oftentimes by unheralded or non-professional actors, and this film is no exception. The story about two longtime friends who aspire to be writers was written by the director along with his longtime friend, Eskil Vogt, wonderfully expressed from the opening scene when Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman Høiner) drop manuscripts into the mailbox of novels they have written while the narrator toys with the audience by suggesting various outcomes that “could” happen, playfully using freeze frames and quick cuts always keeping viewers a bit off guard, much of it conveyed through a glorious montage of Nordic culture on parade in Oslo (with effective change of speed) that plays to the pulsating punk rhythms of Joy Division’s “New Dawn Fades” Reprise movie cuts where Joy Division - New Dawn Fades sounds in background YouTube (3:17). While Phillip is immediately recognized as a vibrant new talent, Erik’s spirits deflate in the opposite direction when he hears nothing from publishers, thinking he is an abysmal failure. But just as quickly, Phillip suffers a mysterious breakdown that may or may not have anything to do with his relationship with Kari (Viktoria Winge), a gorgeous, immensely appealing young girl he obviously still has affections for—all this in the first ten minutes of the film.
Phillip doesn’t seem to be himself, finding his memory and his interests waning ever further from his grasp, including his mixed up feelings for Kari which frustrate him, as they’re not as vivid as he recalls, adding to his morose view that he has somehow lost touch with the world, shown with a delicate touch, including the quietest, somber music from Ola Fløttum and Knut Schreiner. At one point we flash forward six days, at another point it’s six months, using an imaginative editing style that keeps moving back and forth in time while remaining focused on the intimate friendship of the two who are collectively part of a close circle of friends, most all of them as well read and smart as they are, which serves as a combustible engine that drives this film with untiring interest and energy, much of it hilarious from the outset, as these guys are endlessly critical of everyone and everything they see, yet are still good natured goofs with one another, where one is a lead singer in a punk band that offers a rousing contemptuous view of the world with songs like “Fingerfuck the Prime Minister.” When Erik finally hears from an interested publisher that his new novel will be published immediately, he garners all the attention and acclaim that Phillip has been avoiding. Yet this is not necessarily a good thing for a writer. Voracious readers when they were younger, both idolized a legendary writer, Sten Egil Dahl (Sigmund Sæverud), who became the voice of his generation before retreating from public view in order to write. Both feel a connection to hold onto the good natured camaraderie of their friends, yet also stake out an unknown territory within that requires further exploration through writing, a solitary endeavor at odds with social relationships. Phillip’s intense personal struggle to reclaim what his brain can do is equivalent to the practice of writing itself, where nothing is assured except an internal struggle, shut off from the world outside, just one man alone with his own challenges. This entire film is a beautiful journey, a quest for meaning, where friends can’t help blurting out their thoughts with each other, blending, in a beautiful way, all their pent up anger and irritation as well as happiness and joy that are so easily interchanged right alongside moments of sadness and gloom.
The actors themselves are noteworthy, suggesting such a fresh ease of comfort in their performances, where the lack of artifice and complete believability is part of the film’s appeal, with an ensemble cast whose distinguishing characteristic is intelligence. A few notable scenes, Phillip and Kari’s return to Paris where they initially met which couldn’t this time have been more excruciatingly painful to watch, bookended later by his abrupt pronouncement at her workplace, barging in on the mindless repetition of telemarketing offering her only the slightest idea of hope, perhaps the most vulnerable moment in the film where that adrenal rush of hope can be annihilated within seconds yet instead feels like a sudden breakthrough of possibilities. But certainly the best moment in the film is the sustained brilliance of the party sequence, which relishes its own brand of humor, where the young lads turn the place upside down with the help of an iPod, where the frantically alive music of Kathleen Hanna and Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” Reprise clip YouTube (2:28) is simply irresistible, perhaps a last bloom of youth where they can do whatever the hell they please before the inevitable onset of adulthood and responsibilities set in, where hard fought principles disappear overnight as they suddenly become all that they found irritating earlier in life. This is an extraordinary depiction of youth rarely seen in films, as it all feels like we’ve been there before, yet it also offers the best and the brightest with smart, crackling dialogue that doesn’t take itself for granted, that offers a fresh wit with surprising originality throughout, continually altering the pace of the film, weaving in the collective imagination of art, mixing the painfully alone and meticulous work habits with the socially gregarious, leaving open a world of maybes, of what could have been, where multiple ideas literally jump off the screen simply by the way the story is told. There’s enough of an edge that it capitulates to no one, with some brilliant use of music, excellent hand-held camera work from Jakob Ihre, and despite a taut structure, Trier allows the freewheeling improvisational nature of his characters the uninhibited freedom to penetrate our souls with brash audacity.