The remarkable Norwegian film Reprise zeroes in on a very specific time in a young man's life -- and it scores a bull's eye. In his feature-film debut, director Joachim Trier captures that dizzying and dynamic period when books, movies, music and ideas take on paramount importance, when the future appears to pulsate with possibility, when late-night discussions at coffeehouses and bars and college dorm rooms seem infused with the weight of the world.
Reprise centers on two friends, Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), who long to be writers. In the film's opening moments, the pair send off their manuscripts from the same mailbox at the same time. Then, in a flurry of quick edits, a voiceover narrator tells us of the fantasies that Erik and Phillip harbor about being published. They imagine a future in which they achieve cult status, endure doomed romances and eventually collaborate on a book that spurs a revolution in East Africa and a ban from the Roman Catholic Church.
The montage is funny, but the sentiments are achingly familiar to anyone whose youth was, or is, marked by epic daydreams. Moreover, the sequence sets the whimsical tone that follows.
As it turns out, however, the would-be authors aren't entirely prescient. While Erik's manuscript is rejected, Phillip is published and quickly gains critical acclaim. He doesn't have much opportunity to enjoy his professional success. Six months later, a romance with a raven-haired beauty named Kari (Viktoria Winge) has morphed into a sick obsession on his part. Phillip even receives treatment at a psychiatric hospital, but to no avail. He is picked up from the facility by Erik and some other friends, but Phillip is distant and morose with them.
It takes longer for the less-talented Erik to get published, but his life is decidedly more stable than that of his friend. The most daunting issues he face involve competing pulls between his girlfriend and his beer-swilling, misogynous chums.
Women are a source of allure and mistrust for the young men of Reprise. Phillip's pathological obsession with Kari is the most extreme such case, but the picture keenly observes the swirl of paradoxical emotions -- lust and intimidation, longing and resentment -- that can characterize twnetysomething courtships. Erik tells Phillip that neither one can afford to be tied down to the opposite sex. "We can't have girlfriends now," Erik says. "We're supposed to write and read and hang out with friends, and if we feel the urge, we'll practice deviant, fetishistic sex with prostitutes." Ahh, the literary life.
Director Trier is a distant relative of Danish art-house filmmaker Lars von Trier, but Reprise is no slice of Dogme 95. The film's handheld camerawork, movie allusions, jump cuts and often capricious narrative conjure up the playfulness and enthusiasm of early French New Wave.
Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt concoct amusingly complicated backstories of even the most peripheral characters, and the vignettes are fleshed out with flashbacks and flashforwards. And there are wonderful bits of nonsensical fancy. In one flashback, we see Phillip and Kari as strangers in a nightclub; our omniscient narrator informs us that "in 10 seconds, she will look at him," a tenuous connection that begins their tumultuous love affair.
The anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 print transfer is solid and clean, with no noticeable defects and artifacts. That said, don't expect a visual feast. Cinematographer Jakob Ihre blankets the film in muted pastels and grays.
The Norwegian audio track, in Dolby Digital 5.1, is clear and sharp, making subtle but effective use of sound separation.
Optional subtitles are in English, English for the hearing-impaired and Spanish.
The DVD features a passel of worthwhile featurettes. Casting Reprise (7:19) covers how Trier found Klouman-Høiner and Danielsen Lie. In the 11-minute, 54-second Anecdotes, Trier and Vogt discuss how their own experiences as young men shaped the movie's narrative guts. All in Trier's Details (8:02) is a quasi (and far too short) making-of piece, while Love's Not Easy (4:02) is a throwaway about shooting a (rather tame) love scene involving the Phillip and Kari characters. So Sorry, which clocks in just past the one-minute mark, edits together all the times a character says "sorry."
Fans of the movie will find a dozen deleted scenes worth checking out. Viewers can watch each separately or consecutively; aggregate running time is 16 minutes, 31 seconds.
Energetic, smart and touching, Reprise conjures up some of the magic that permeated the French New Wave of early Truffaut and Godard. That might make it sound less accessible than it is, but don't get the wrong idea: Joachim Trier's feature-film debut is also sparkling entertainment.