Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I hate to admit it, but I'm a bit on the fence over REPRISE (2006). There are parts of it that I admired and can get behind, but other parts of it that just annoyed the shit out of me. The last third of the film is quite good, and may be entirely responsible for making me lean more towards the side of liking it. But the first two-thirds are a stylistic mess fraught with jumbles of quirky narration, over-editing, and contrived dramatic moments. There is a good and earnest story here about friendship, artistic inspiration, and the confusion and camaraderie of youth, but it doesn't really get to play itself out until the later part of the film. Before this, everything feels constantly interrupted by excess. It's hard to connect to the characters and their emotions when there is just so much hyper-editing going on and constant narrative detours. Initially, I kept wanting to ask the director: why don't you let a scene actually play out instead of chopping it up so thoroughly? There are some tender and beautiful looking moments early on that I wish we would be given more time with and that the director would have developed more. I kept waiting for a nice strong, emotional scene to occur where we are submerged in the films conflicts and drama. But I kept feeling repelled by all the quirky style. It initially reminded me of BEGINNERS (which I fucking hated) because all its devices felt so contrived and kind of extraneous. Eventually, and thankfully, all the quirk started to tone down towards the end and we got some wonderful, human scenes that I was dying for (For the record, this is a MUCH better film than BEGINNERS).
But, still I find it hard to look past some of the earlier moments that rang completely false to me.
One of the only extended scenes in the early parts of the film is unfortunately the worst scene in the entire film. It's when Erik and Phillip are swimming with their friends and a woman from Erik's publisher comes and visits with them. The behavior of the friends and the woman's subsequent outrage are almost laughable in that they are just parodies of human interaction. The woman's disgust of the friends turns her into this stuffy, liberal stereotype and the mild banter between the friends is somehow taken as wildly adolescent and despicable. It doesn't work. It's just a completely heavy-handed way to make Erik question his allegiance to either his friends or the type of bourgeois stuffed-shirt the woman represents.
I also couldn't get past some of the contrived dramatic moments. Too often, Trier has his characters looking way too moody, as if they are trying much too hard to be serious and introspective. The scene with all the friends on the pier is one. Another is the morning after Phillip and his girlfriend have an uncomfortable night together. Phillip reaches for his girlfriend as she's getting dressed and she slowly pulls away from him. That's your textbook dramatic moment that only happens in a film, no where else. I wish my life where that self-consciously histrionic. Again, these moments are small, but they felt forced, and that is never a good sign.
However, with those moments aside, the film does start to really bloom towards the end. There's a great scene with all the friends going to a party where you felt the real connection of youth, friendship, and goodwill. There's another great scene between Erik and Phillip where Erik becomes honest about something new that Phillip has written. It's a strong dramatic moment between two close but emotionally precarious friends. The best thing about the end of the film is that scenes like this start to actually unfold they way they should. There is a natural progression to them that makes Trier finally seem confident in his writing.
Brandon wrote this about REPRISE the other day: "REPRISE was easily one of my favorite films from 2008 (2006 by John’s system) as it dealt honestly with a group of friends who love art and want to be a part of it until they die. I hadn’t seen many films reflect that immature and naïve outlook that so many writers, musicians, filmmakers, and artists have before being torn apart and thrown out. It also had that sense of communal survival, the way our interactions help cushion the blow of reality." I agree with him mostly about the content of the film and what it tries to communicate to us about youth and art. I just think Trier's style gets in the way of real connection to the scenes and characters for most of the story. He's talented, and the film looks beautiful, but I think as a dramatist, he needs a little work.
p.s. I'm definitely not trying to pick a fight over this film, just trying to be honest about my reaction to it. I was very disappointed to have not liked it more, as I went in with high hopes. I'm still excited to see OSLO. Maybe I'll have a stronger connection to that. Still, REPRISE is not a bad film, it just feels inconsistent.