Reprise (2006)

Joachim Trier | 1hr 45min

To reprise a creative expression of some sort is to recreate it with the expectation of a similarly rapturous reception, though the reclaiming act that best friends Erik and Phillip attempt to carry out is merely based on some fantasy of success that exists in their minds. As the two aspiring writers sit on the precipice of submitting their manuscripts to publishers, their possible futures play out like novels, with an omniscient narrator framing them as protagonists in stories where personal struggles eventually give way to great literary achievements. Both lives rapidly flit by in a black-and-white collage of freeze frames, magazine articles, book covers, and maps, all while our narrator provides steady reassurance that everything will eventually work out for the two young men.

Reprise’s energy is built on its editing, opening with this playful black-and-white montage of Erik and Phillip’s hopeful futures. Split screens, moving photos, freeze frames – Trier is pulling out all the stops.

And yet, these dreams all rest on a conditional tense – they “would have” come true were it not for some vague, unspecified turn of fate. For Phillip, success is attained but short-lived, sending him to the top of the Norwegian literary scene before he comes crashing down in a psychotic episode. For Erik, failure is the motivation to keep revising his novel over and over until lightning hopefully strikes. Though their paths diverge, a mutual emotional support remains, lifting each other up through personal struggles so that their sparks of creativity may one day be recognised.

It is those energetic sparks which fizzle all through Reprise, tantalising us with vivacious editing that expresses a distinctly Truffautian sensibility, constantly leaping beyond the boundaries of the immediate narrative with playful cutaways and montages. One could even line the film up next to Jules and Jim and draw connections between both studies of bohemian male friendship, as well as the pair of women who dramatically shift their tight dynamics. Time moves fast for Erik and Phillip, but it also seems to fall away all together, distancing them from any arbitrary deadlines and allowing them instead to sit in the lively momentum of their youth.

Kari comes into Erik and Phillip’s friendship like Catherine does in Jules and Jim, inadvertently setting in motion Phillip’s breakdown.

These characters do not simply exist independent of Joachim Trier’s experimental stylings but are rather closely intertwined in formal unity. As one of Erik’s friends encourages him to break up with his girlfriend, Trier intercuts the scene with the leadup to the conversation itself, anxiously anticipating whatever emotional breakdown is about to take place. And then, just as Erik arrives at her door, we are suddenly sent flying into a shameful childhood flashback of a time he was mean to one of his school peers. Later, a side character returning home claims he is heading upstairs to read the Heidegger book he just bought, while a sneaky cutaway reveals the porn magazine in his bag. Such is the nature of Trier’s omniscient perspective that he is free to wander across this timeline at free will and poke into secret corners, examining his characters not as independent beings, but as subjects of their own stories.

The photography isn’t among the film’s strengths, but Trier takes the time to deliver these isolating character compositions.

Through this Brechtian lens, Trier pushes narrative developments which don’t so much unfold organically as they do by strokes of both good and bad fortune. It could very well be the same luck which saw Phillip initially succeed over Erik that also sees the latter unassumingly insult a disabled writer on a talk show, just one of many incidents stringing him along to failure. The comedy here is bitingly dry, though not without catharsis. Hope comes in the form of a miracle that would have almost been entirely unbelievable were it not for the sequence of mishaps which led to that point.

True to the form of the piece, Trier ends Reprise with another idealistic dream of the future, conjuring similarly happy prospects for both Erik and Phillip as those from the start. The subjectivity and elusiveness of success makes any real conclusivity difficult for men like these, who constantly strive for some idea of greatness that never stops changing. Trier empathises with them all too well, even with the distance he keeps. The novelistic qualities he embeds into Reprise seek not to ostracise the young creatives, but rather to understand them in the way they might ultimately one day write about themselves – with sensible hindsight, compassion, imagination, and a good, healthy dose of self-deprecating humour.

Conversations about love, literature, and success – a strong screenplay from Trier.

Reprise is currently streaming on Mubi.

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