DID YOU READ

Joachim Trier on “Reprise”

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05142008_reprise1.jpgBy Aaron Hillis

Joachim Trier’s mother was a documentarian, his father a sound department tech, his grandfather a Cannes-selected filmmaker, and his distant cousin Lars von Trier, so is it any surprise that the feature debut of this Copenhagen-born, Norwegian-based director has already turned out to be one of the year’s best imports? An invigoratingly kinetic punk rock ode to young intellectual camaraderie that’s as funny and sexy as it is haunting and sad, “Reprise” knocks chronology and narrative structure on their standardized asses to detail the friendship between twentysomething writers Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie). Beginning with the two dreaming rebels standing at a mailbox about to ship their first novels to publishers, “Reprise” digressively dazzles in the moments long after, way before, and several hops in between as one becomes famous, the other hustles in his shadow, and the pressures of reality bring them both closer to depression and madness. (All that, plus a soundtrack featuring Joy Division, Turbonegro, Le Tigre, and the theme from Godard’s “Contempt” — so hip!) I spoke with Trier about the film, his collaboration with co-writer Eskil Vogt, and his unexpected airborne abilities as a teenager.

Though “Reprise” is not autobiographical, did you find any ironic or uncanny parallels between two writers who were writing about two writers?

Yeah, not only are we both writers, we’re also good friends, so we could ask the imaginary question, “What would have happened if one of us didn’t want to write or make movies anymore?” It’s the question we pose to Erik and Phillip in the film, because Phillip has other things he needs to deal with in his life and gives up on his literary ambition. [There’s also] that question of “What’s left of a friendship that was initially based on shared passions when that ambition is gone?” Sometimes it’s good to have a friendship where you can imagine certain dynamics between you, even though the film is not autobiographical — I haven’t exactly tried to write a book or gone mad. [laughs]

In fact, your director’s statement proclaims that you wanted to depict characters you know intimately, which made me wonder — how competitive do your friendships get?

A lot of people have said that Phillip and Erik are competitive, but I never saw it quite like that. There’s an ambivalence whenever you have friends who do similar things to you. You want to succeed together. I never felt competition with Eskil. I always wanted his films to do well. But there’s always an aspect of anxiety: “What if I was left out? What if I’m not able to continue?” It’s a complicated process.

“Reprise” largely concerns the wild spectrum of emotions that springs from the creative minds of twentysomethings. Now that you’re in your thirties, how different is your worldview compared to when you were Erik and Phillip’s age?

05142008_reprise2.jpgI’m probably learning something about both myself and what I’m doing. For example, I’m not afraid of the mixture of high and low culture. When I was younger, I remember thinking, “Goodness, with all those bad jokes me and my friends are telling each other, how can I ever create something serious?” I felt ambivalent about the multiple curiosities I had in life, a bit like Erik, [in that scene] the publisher comes to see him when he’s on the beach with his friends, they’re all talking about silly things, he wants to talk about something very serious, and he feels an inability to combine those parts of his life. With time, it all comes in. You don’t need to cut one away to do the other.

Is that duplicity why you wanted to bring levity and excitement to such heavy themes in the film as psychosis, depression and suicide?

That was our ambition to take that chance. The ultimate challenge of this was to combine serious themes of mental illness with the lightness that I believe is a part of life. Having said that, we certainly didn’t want to take the subject of mental illness [lightly]. We have a close friend that has been through a schizoaffective period in his twenties, which we’ve seen as a big tragedy. There’s enough culture out there that romanticizes people with mental illness, “the crazy artist.” We wanted to work against that cliché.

In a recent interview, you suggested that “a lot of young people don’t feel a strong sense of cultural identity as a Norwegian.” Why do you think that is?

Norway is a young culture, and growing up in Norway, everyone’s into sports. There was a feeling I remember — at least in the ’80s, when I was kid — that there were no movies or bands worth listening to that came from Norway. This has changed, but a lot of people still look out to other cultures and countries for their inspiration. There’s also a tradition of writers going abroad to do their literature. For example, Ibsen went to Italy to write “Peer Gynt.” So there’s a [stereotype] of this small country where people just want to leave, but there’s a creative dialectic that is fueled by the alienation and self-doubt. A lot of great art has come out of that as well, so I don’t think it’s one-sidedly negative.

What about your own impact? Has the international success of “Reprise” affected the Norwegian film scene, either to energize other filmmakers or help get more indies to be made?

It has, actually, which is great. What’s happened is there’s a bigger political emphasis now on financing different types of films. You have 4.5 million people speaking Norwegian — not a lot, so the commercial potential of any given film isn’t great, and you need government support to be able to do movies in Norwegian. A few years ago, everyone was concerned with the audience numbers and trying to get people into the cinemas. The next [step] is to make more sophisticated movies with more thematic ambition. I hope this will continue, and there seems to be the possibility that more heterogenic films will be made.

05142008_reprise3.jpgIf it’s so difficult getting Norwegian art films made, why did you cast mostly non-professionals?

We didn’t have any choice. There weren’t that many great actors that age who could play those parts, and we needed to find a bunch of guys who were both intellectual and had a good sense of humor. We looked at stand-up comedians, people off the street, musicians — we saw around a thousand people. Ultimately, I found the biggest challenge was trying to create the relationships of the story. Erik and Philip are almost a couple, and Kari and Phillip certainly are. So, the dynamic was just as important as the individual characters.

With your family’s background in film, it makes sense why you might have chosen this career path. But what led to you twice becoming the National Skateboarding Champion of Norway as a teen?

Skateboarding was banned in Norway, the only country in the world that had a complete ban, from ’78 through ’89. Some politician and his great self-protecting social democracy of Norway had misinterpreted some statistics about people from America hurting themselves. My little brother Emil Trier has just made a wonderful [documentary short that screened at SXSW 2008] about this phenomenon, called “Board Control.” In that film, you figure out that it was actually a big misunderstanding. They misused the law that was trying to ban, say, a doll that would suddenly light up and burn a child. For some strange reason, skateboarding ended up being perceived as a dangerous toy.

So people kept importing skateboards, and we kept skating. We built ramps out in the woods, skated in secret spots, and ran away from the cops. Obviously, growing up in a boring Norwegian middle class, everyone wants to do something rebellious. When it was legalized in ’89, there was a huge boom commercially, and there were all these competitions. I was sponsored and got sent all around the world to skate. All those things that had been underground, all that punk music and American indie rock we listened to, suddenly became mainstream. It’s like what happened when Nirvana went on MTV over here, and a lot of people asked themselves, “Why hadn’t [we] listened to Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü or Dinosaur Jr. three years earlier?” Sometimes things just change, and it’s interesting to observe. [laughs]

Now that you’ve mentioned film, literature and music, I have to ask about your own media consumption. What are you watching, reading and listening to?

I’ve been listening to lots of Jens Lekman and a [Swedish pop] band called Doktor Kosmos. I just spoke yesterday to this friend of mine in L.A. that has a band called Bigbang, and it’s funny because they’re a huge rock group in Norway, but over here, they’re slowly building momentum. It’s great to see Scandinavian musicians going abroad and doing that. What I’m reading at the moment? Too many scripts and too many books related to work. I wish I had more time to just freely read whatever I’m curious about like I used to. In terms of movies, I think “Falkenberg Farewell” is a wonderful recent Swedish film. I don’t know if it’s been picked up over here, but fingers crossed, because it’s honestly a masterpiece. It’s like Terrence Malick making a Dogme movie. It’s become a big cult hit in Europe, a genuine art movie made over a period of five years with a group of friends who are [playing] themselves. Then they got master editor Michal Leszczylowski — who has worked with Tarkovsky and Bergman — to edit it for them. So it’s an interesting mixture of something very sophisticated and something very raw. That’s inspiring.

[Photos: “Reprise”; director Joachim Trier, Miramax Films, 2006]

“Reprise” opens in limited release on May 16.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.