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Writing High

Young Novelists Navigate Ambition And Their 20S In This Norwegian Coming-Of-Age Flick


THERE, THERE: Anders Danielsen Lie Gets a Squeeze From Viktoria Winge.

By Martin L. Johnson | Posted 6/25/2008

At the beginning of director Joachim Trier's quick-witted but slow-moving Reprise, two young Norwegian novelists, Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), meet at a post-office box to submit their manuscripts. In a burst of energy, the movie races through the possibilities that await them once their novels are published: celebrity, trips to Europe, and bouts of depression caused by what the movie calls Stendhal syndrome, a malaise named after the French novelist for a nervous condition brought about by exposure to great art.

After this wild start, Reprise, much like the characters it portrays, fails to live up to its initial promise. Although it has its moments, for the most part it is a shopworn story of young, well-off people who confuse celebrity with greatness and suffering with an unsatisfactory job. Reprise attempts to combine the carefree spirit of Jules and Jim with the cynicism of Trainspotting but ends up domesticating the adventurousness of its predecessors.

The movie is set in Oslo, here portrayed as an affluent, dull place in spite of its rock clubs and universities. Phillip and Erik still spend much of their time with their friends from their teenage years, who have now found jobs in advertising. Phillip's novel is published, but its success paralyzes him. He goes off to Paris with Kari (Viktoria Winge), whom he had met recently at a rock concert, spurring a fast-track romance that is one of the only truly happy moments of this otherwise downbeat story. When he returns to Norway his depression deepens and he enters a mental institution, where he is prohibited from seeing Kari. His condition worsens, leaving him unable to write.

Erik, whose moppy hair and affable personality makes him the more likable character, is meanwhile struggling to complete his own first novel, provocatively titled Prosopeia (translated into English as "Prozac and Pee"). Erik is eventually published, too, only his hopes for greatness are dashed when, during a television appearance, he realizes that his novel is being marketed as "trauma fiction." Because you never learn what the novel is about--in fact, despite the intellectual pretensions of the movie's characters, they never have intelligent conversations--you're left to make your own assumptions about it.

Amid all this novel writing and star seeking, Trier offers a gentle portrait of life in Norway. While Phillip and Erik seek out their favorite author, the reclusive and forgotten Tor Edvin Dahl, the rest of the characters plod through unfulfilling jobs in telemarketing and flirt with nationalist anti-globalization movements. Even Phillip's troubled romance with Kari appears to be halfhearted, more a symptom of his interest in controlling the world around him than a genuine affection, or even obsession, with her.

While celebrity obsession from young novelists isn't surprising, Erik and Phillip live in a country so tight-knit that being famous is somewhat impossible if you stay home, as everyone already appears to know everyone else. And it doesn't matter if you leave, as Erik learns when he tries to write his second novel abroad. Perhaps the characters have other, higher aspirations, but you never get a sense of what they might be.

Trier, a distant relative of the Danish director Lars Von Trier, laces his movie with subtle innovations, such as shooting conversations with the images and the sound out-of-sync, that would be at home in the French New Wave and its many imitators. The coming-of-age stories of a half-dozen or so characters continue to circle around each other, and while you don't witness much character growth, the depth of their relationships becomes more intriguing as the movie reveals bit by bit.

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the young and wealthy Tom Buchanan as "one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax." Erik and Phillip, like everyone else in their peer group, are cut from the same cloth. The movie's ending doesn't come as a surprise, exactly, given the title, but it reminds us that, in our already predictable lives, the worst thing we can do is try to repeat our best moments.

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