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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lost in Translation (Reprise)

The great Norwegian novel?

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Oslo must be a dull place, not only because the protagonists of Reprise dream of escaping it, but also because the city nurtured them. We meet Phillip and Erik, a pair of wannabe novelists, at a postal box, slipping their manuscript envelopes into the chute. After Phillip’s novel is accepted, he is anointed as Norway’s young literary lion, only to suffer an emotional breakdown. Erik’s is at first rejected, but he rebounds and embraces the acclaim that Phillip was unable to handle.

  It could be a touching tale, but soon into Reprise, the faux nave voiceover narration begins, enclosing every word and gesture with cute little quotation marks. The characters actually wiggle their fingers once in a while to signify postmodern irony—a gesture that even Hollywood movies began poking fun at by the end of the last decade.

  Phillip and Erik, despite their laudable ambitions of writing the great Norwegian novel, just aren’t terribly interesting characters. Other than youthful infatuation for a reclusive ’60s-era Norwegian author (a Nordic J.D. Salinger?), there is little explanation for why they are pursuing the life of literature. Both would look more comfortable ensconced in gray, Dilbert office cubicles than holding forth with Gore Vidal, Philip Roth or even Jonathan Franzen.

Maybe they are something like their creator, Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier, who affects the quirks and tics of indie and art house filmmakers, the mannerisms of the long ago French new wave or of the similarly named Danish director Lars von Trier, but has little to say except that books are, like, kind of cool. The cinematography is ugly and the lighting bleached out, giving Reprise the look of an extended series of home movies. The plot digresses, circles around itself and digresses again, piling on additional characterless characters and cutting back and forth across time. Along the way, the protagonists manage to hold forth in a series of callow, solipsistic conversations glancing at the meaning of life. Like them, Reprise is the sort of film that confuses tedium with profundity.