I am now back in London following the finale of this year's Cannes Film Festival, and also following a hellish flight home on a plane that appeared to have been purchased for a suitcase full of cash from a Chechen warlord. But I'll still be posting Cannes-y material this week, as I've a plethora of interviews that I didn't have time to write up while at the festival. First up is Norwegian director Joachim Trier.
Less than a secret that of all the free movies available to view here on Indie, Joachim Trier's Reprise is one that we love the most (yes, even more than Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned). A pleasure then to A) catch Trier's new movie, Oslo, August 31st, as it made its debut in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, B) discover that OA31 (as all the cool kids and a smattering of nerds will soon be calling it) is both a thematically complementary piece to Reprise and comparable in terms of sterling quality, and C) be granted some interview time with Trier himself, in order to discuss his latest directorial offering.
There is a glowing review of Oslo, August 31st already up on the site for you to read, but I am aware that might seem like unnecessary hard work for some so here is a quick summary: loosely based on Le Feu Follet, a 1931 novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, the movie presents a pivotal day in the life of Anders, played by Anders Danielsen Lie, also one of the stars of Reprise. A recovering heroin addict, Anders makes a day trip to his home city of Oslo, where he mixes with old friends and acquaintances, and also wrestles with his inner tumult.
Anders seems a man almost imprisoned by his past, tormented by lost chances and relationships, chasing the illusionary tail of past times that seem preferable to the life he finds himself living now. Reflecting the more grown-up obsessions which lie at the heart of the story, the mise en scène of Oslo is less energetic than that of Reprise, although the wit and intellectual depth which characterised the dialogue and verbal interactions of that earlier movie are still very much present.
From watching his movies and reading his prior interviews, wit and intellectual depth are two qualities you would likely ascribe Trier himself, and sure enough he displays both during the 20-minute chat that myself and two fellow hacks enjoyed with him last Thursday, in one of those beach-stationed bar/restaurants that line the sandy side of the Croisette. But he also proved a very amiable fellow, palpably excited to be screening the latest fruit of his filmic loins at the planet's most famous film festival.
The history of Cannes looms even larger over Trier than most, not just because he is a cine-zealot, but because his grandfather, Erik Løchen, exhibited his film, The Chasers, in competition at the festival just over half-a-century ago (something Trier referred to during his introductory speech at the Oslo screening on Wednesday). Although it was another, more distant relative of Trier who was on the lips of everyone at the festival on the day we met the Norwegian filmmaker: his namesake Lars (the 'von' of course being a self-added affectation), a vague familial relation, who had caused no little hullabaloo with his comments about Hitler, Albert Speer and all that at the press conference for Melancholia.
The subject of LVT did indeed surface during the interview, but the first question asked of Trier was to explain the thinking behind the opening of Oslo, August 31st , which finds old footage matched to unseen interviewees offering their personal memories of the eponymous city.
Joachim Trier: I've been very fascinated by the themes of memory and identity and place, which I think are the primary themes of cinema. It's good stuff to deal with in films. I don't mean to sound all nostalgic but there's a melancholy to those places that we leave or the people that we leave behind. I think that was kind of a good prologue for this film.
Questioner: But don't say the word 'melancholia'. It's forbidden! [laughter]
JT: I know, I'll have to leave Cannes then. We have it in the family. He [von Trier] is very remote, by the way, just in case you're curious. So I can't take any responsibility. I haven't even seen the clips [of the ill-fated press conference, which incidentally are worth watching just for Kirsten Dunst's reaction – she looking every bit as awkward and panicked as Mike Myers did during Kanye West's Hurricane Katrina rant against Dubya.]
Q: You mentioned nostalgia then – is nostalgia dangerous? For Anders, it seems like he's looking back and just seeing the happy times.
JT: I'm sure it is. You need to be fluid as humans. I think Anders has a great sense of integrity about him. I think he lacks maybe a sense of self-irony. We all need to learn to laugh at ourselves – I'm not saying I'm good at that, but I'm trying. And I think we need to move forward and accept ourselves. I think this story's also about self-acceptance, and accepting that you change and accepting who you are. This is a story about self-forgiveness as well, and about that vulnerability that people can have in that moment. So through the story of a drug addict, I'm trying to heighten certain shared human emotions, rather than for it to be a comment on drug addiction.
Q: I didn't think of Le Feu Follet having seen the movie, even with the temptation of suicide of your character But which was the inspiration to you – the movie by Malle [made in '63] or the novel by Drieu la Rochelle?
JT: The novel. We have done an adaptation of the novel, not the movie. But I love the movie, by the way.
Q: And the novel itself was very controversial at its moment, and Drieu la Rochelle is still today a very controversial person in France. But what attracted you to the novel?
JT: I think it was an honest portrayal of a person who is underneath and above at the same time. Nothing is good enough for him, so therefore he'd rather die than to be like the others. He's saying “What's the way forward? What constitutes value in our life as creative people or as middle class people with choices?” The character in the book is also quite resourceful, like Anders is. They're different – different culture, different time – but they still share that they have choices and yet they don't know where to go.
Q: And in Norway have there been a lot of films about generational anxiety? Because I feel like your two films are about people your age and something you feel around you.
JT: I have lack of imagination. I can only represent the people I know. Like Buñuel says, we make films for our friends and our friends' friends, and in my case also about my friends and my friends' friends. I don't set out to do this generational thing, but it seems like last time I touched a nerve, and you know maybe I will this time as well. That's up to the audience, I have no clue.
I speak a lot, but I also think I know how to listen. So I hear what people are interested in and that inspires me sometimes. But I think that there's this kind of difference between Reprise and this film, in the sense that we've chosen different dramaturgy. In Reprise, we spanned a long time, we entered into dreams, we represent things differently. In this film, I wanted there to be clarity, a more simple story, and for there to be more of a mystery, more of an observational process that's different for the audience. It's kind of an inverted version of Reprise.
Q: I feel this film is also about new beginnings. There is something similar.
JT: You're right. Yeah, it's about new beginnings. And there are similarities between the two. Anders [Danielsen Lie], I guess, is the most obvious one, the lead actor.
Q: He's a friend of yours?
JT: Yeah, now he is. I met him through my last film, we met through the casting process. He's intelligent – you can't fake that. Intelligent actors are rare. I'm sorry, I don't know if you should print that!
When you make a story about maybe someone that could be me, who's at home, and I'm thinking about quarrelling with the girlfriend, or 'What am I doing tonight? I need to go shopping,' or 'I need to reply to an email,' and there's a knock on the door, and an old friend enters, and he's wanting to talk about something really serious, about an existential, complete devastation that he's got. You need someone smart to make that interesting [that scenario plays out between the characters of Anders and Thomas near the start of Oslo, August 31st].
Anders in real life is not like the character, he hasn't had drug problems. But he's a tough person to argue with. He's very verbal.
Q: But he acts only for you? Or he became an actor for others?
JT: No, he's a doctor. He's a renaissance man. He's done a couple of things since Reprise. He was a child actor and he hated it, and then he did other stuff. He's written a book, he's a doctor, he's released an album as a musician. He's very impressive.
He went into this role so hard, he changed his physique. It was tough on his relationship, tough on his girlfriend, so I should thank her for being with him through those six months when he was preparing for the part. He was in a very dark place, very brave. He takes so much of himself into the films.
Q: But in Reprise he plays the most damaged character, if you will, and you're putting him through it again. Do you feel guilty as his friend and director to give him such heavy parts?
JT: His life is so wonderful and light so maybe he deserves [it]. Maybe I'm a sadist! No, I don't feel guilty. I think through the things we create, we also resolve and deal with issues. We had this talk yesterday actually, after the film Anders said “Something happened to me through this film,” and I feel the same. So he feels he came out in a positive way, having learned something from this, and that makes me happy.
Q: How did he react to the movie?
JT: He was very happy about it, and I was so relieved! With Reprise, it took him a couple of viewings before he could see the film and not only the process. But yesterday, he had tears in his eyes and he was happy, and he said “I like this film! It's good! We did something!”. So I'm very relieved.
Q: And how is it to be a director – young, successful, in Cannes, everybody looking to you because of the movie?
JT: It's a strange moment right now. I understand your question, because I'm reacclimatising myself. I came out of the darkness of editing and grading and mixing this film three weeks ago, and I've been working almost without a weekend of break for a year, and I'm quite exhausted. And then this dream come true, to show it in Cannes. There's sun in my eyes, I feel like a vampire about to vanish or something [laughter]. I'm very happy, but I think I'll need a bit of time to digest. I'm still waiting for – excuse the bad metaphor – a bomb to go off, for someone to come up to me and say “This is an awful piece of shit!” Maybe they are saying it in the corners, but at the moment it feels like it's functioning, people are taking it in, and it's a very strong thing.
Q: I was wondering about the two sequences with the voice-overs, which connect the character to the city. If you could talk about these two for a moment.
JT: You mean the interviews at the beginning and the sequence with the parents, where he speaks about his upbringing?
JT: Reprise was a very dirty film in its form – it's got flashbacks, voice-overs, everything. I wanted to have a purity here, and Eskil [Vogt], my co-writer, and me were talking about Bresson all the time. But I'm too restless! I want a dynamic to my aesthetic. The first sequence is very important to contextualise, as I said earlier, memory and identity and place, but I think the thing about the parents is that, in a story like this, it can almost become a bit easy to say “Oh, maybe he had a bad upbringing.” No, he doesn't see it like that at all. He in a strange way defends his parents. This is the mystery of life. You can't blame the poor parents. Life is complicated.
Q: Could you explain why he sabotages the job interview? That's quite an interesting scene, because when he starts to reveal himself, the other guy [the interviewer] doesn't react negatively particularly, but Anders feels that he's said something wrong and leaves. What was the thinking behind that scene?
JT: I think it's about self-acceptance, who are we and how we want to perceive ourselves in situations as well. People interpret that scene quite differently. We could just ask amongst ourselves, do we think that he could really get that job or not? In your case, you think he could have got it?
Q: I think so. Maybe I've watched too many American movies! [laughter]
JT: That's valid! But with Anders' characteristics wouldn't it be humiliating to not just be loved and to get it because he's great? He's living this myth of himself and he can't accept himself for who he is. And I think the scene to me is about those things. He doesn't manage to accept that things aren't perfect, and that's very human. I can identify with this.
Q: Just to clarify your method as a last question: the city, these interviews – it's written in your script? Or you shoot?
JT: We wrote something about what it should be and then it was supposed to be the ending. And in this film we had the cliché of the producer coming into the room and saying “Put something from the ending in the beginning and it's solved,” or something. And in this film, we couldn't. Because it's one day, it goes from morning into night. But here we go, I put the ending at the beginning and it gave a pretext to the film.
It was documentary interviews, with friends or people I knew. I spent a few hours with them, and I almost understood how it is to be a shrink. I asked them to just go into memories.
Q: You had a lot more material?
JT: Much more. There's a Georges Perec book called I Remember, in which he just lists memories, and I thought I shouldn't copy that and write it myself, I should ask other people. One girl started crying and told me a very sad story of a lost friendship she'd had. Another guy just kept telling the funniest stories and we laughed and laughed. There's that chaos, and also the images of various documentaries and fiction films. There's actually a scene, a moment of a man running in black-and-white away from the camera, from my grandfather Erik Løchen's film, Remonstrance. It's a homage to old cinema.
And Joachim Trier's Reprise is available to watch for free here on IndieMoviesOnline (UK-based users only, sorry).