Reprise (2006) is a heady, Norwegian comedy-drama about young men with literary pretentions. It earned best film, director, and screenplay awards at home, and was a critical success on the festival circuit.
The film opens with 23-year-old, aspiring authors Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielson Lie) standing before a mailbox steeling themselves to mail the manuscripts for their first novels to publishers. It's at this moment that the film takes the first of many digressions spurred by the conjecture of a disembodied, third-person omniscient narrator (Eindride Eidsvoll):
"Their manuscripts would have been accepted immediately. They would have been published the next fall. Finally, they would have been authors."
The hypothetical imagined for Phillip includes going through a fit of disillusionment, travel, psychological breakdown and renewal. For Erik, it features writer's block, travel, and a tragically passionate love affair that restores his creativity. Phillip and Erik would then chance upon one another in Paris and co-write a book so momentous it would cause revolution in Africa and be banned by the Pope. However, the narrator admits, this is not what actually happened.
Here and elsewhere, the narrator is not merely passively explaining what might have happened, he's actively constructing the romantic hypothetical in real time. This is most apparent when he revises details mid-sentence. For example, with regard to where Erik and Phillip would have met again, the narrator begins with a cafe, revises that to a street, then the Metro, and then an airport, before settling on a Paris landmark, the Luxembourg Garden. With each change, the characters are instantly re-imagined in the new location. The form of this active construction suggests the creative process of writing a first draft of fiction, while the substance suggests wish fulfillment by the two protagonists.
Narration is also employed to provide background on the characters--typically, the particulars of their first meetings and critical events that shaped their personalities and ambitions--and to pronounce their inner thoughts. Thus, we learn how Erik and Phillip met, are introduced to the object of Phillip's obsessive romantic fixation, Kari (Viktoria Winge), and are told what she sees in him ("His gaze made her feel pretty") and what he sees in her ("She was the only girl he had met who had Ramones' Road to Ruin on vinyl").
In addition to the narration, the film also employs a non-linear structure that frequently shows the dramatic consequences of events before the events themselves are revealed. Thus, we see Phillip being released from a psychiatric hospital before we learn what caused his breakdown.
This otherwise gloomy story is brightened by a liberal dose of comedy in the wildly idealized hypotheticals and in the fates of the minor characters, especially Phillip and Erik's circle of smug, misogynistic, hypocritical pals.
Given the limits of the medium, the anamorphic DVD transfer looks good. The image is frequently soft, but it's unclear to what extent this is attributable to how the film was shot. Apart from minor edge enhancement, what other flaws there are in the image are likely inherent in the source materials.
The 5.1 DD audio is front heavy with only subtle use of the rear speakers, but the dialogue and soundtrack some sharp. Optional subtitles are provided in English, English for the hearing impaired, and Spanish.
Though filmmaker Joachim Trier speaks excellent English, unfortunately, no commentary is provided on this release. Instead, we're given five behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and trailers for other films, though not for this one.
Reprise is an exceptional first feature film by director/co-writer Joachim Trier. As densely layered with esoteric and obscure references as any Woody Allen or Whit Stillman film, it is highly recommended to music, literature, and art film geeks, or really to anyone that's ever had intellectual or artistic pretensions of any kind (who hasn't?).