I have to confess to an almost total ignorance of Norwegian cinema before the good word-of-mouth for Joachim Trier’s latest film prompts me to give it a try.
The Worst Person in the World is a rare beauty, a picaresque tale of life and love in contemporary Oslo, built around a superb, award-winning performance by Renate Reinsve. She’s Julie, who, when we first encounter her, is a medical student, bored by the reality of slicing up bodies and fast coming to the conclusion that’s she’s chosen the wrong subject.
Shortly thereafter, she breaks up with her boyfriend, decides to study psychology instead, and then jumps ship again in favour of a photography course.
Until she starts dabbling with writing…
Fast approaching her thirtieth birthday, Julie realises that, despite all her best endeavours, she still doesn’t have a game plan for the future and, when she meets acclaimed comic artist, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), the two of them hit it off immediately. Soon they’re sharing an apartment. But Aksel is older than her and already talking about the possibility of starting a family. Julie appreciates she’s supposed to want that too, but is painfully aware that she still hasn’t found her own path.
And then one night, she skips out of a dull launch for Aksel’s latest book and recklessly crashes a stranger’s wedding party, where she has a chance encounter with Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), an easygoing barista. The two of them share their darkest secrets and Julie begins to realise, to her dismay, that she is falling for him…
If this all sounds like something you’ve seen a thousand times before, don’t be misled. TWPITW, co- written by Trier with Eskil Vogt, is a multi-faceted creation. Broken down into a kind of visual novel, it’s related in twelve ‘chapters,’ along with a prologue and an epilogue. The film positively buzzes with invention – from the magical scene where Julie runs through an Oslo where every other character is frozen into immobility to a weird magic mushroom experience at a house party – and on to a conclusion that is both heart-breaking yet, somehow, life-affirming. It’s all brilliantly paced and thoroughly entertaining. An eclectic soundtrack featuring a whole variety of performers only adds to the ‘whatever next?’ atmosphere.
I love the fact that Julie is an unreliable character, struggling to find her way in the world. Is she the ‘Worst Person’ of the title? Well, it’s actually Aksel who uses the phrase, but he’s referring to himself when he says it. But really he’s just a little out of touch in a world where all his long-held views are increasingly perceived as controversial. And Julie isn’t terrible either; she just wants to find her own identity and won’t settle for anything less.
This feels uncannily like real life, with all its messy complications, many of which can never be resolved, only put down to the twisted trials of human experience.
It’s hard to remember a film that has nailed the convoluted path to maturity with such absolute conviction. If you’re tired of the conventional (and happy to read subtitles), The Worst Person in the World may be just the cinematic experience you’ve been waiting for. However you feel about this film, I’m pretty confident you won’t be bored by it.