TIFF Report: A Conversation with Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt

jackie-chan
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Last week, only a few days into the festival I was given the chance to interview Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, director and co-writer respectively of Reprise. This is an interview I jumped at the chance to perform; it sounds completely crazy, with the limited time available during the Toronto International Film Festival, but I’ve actually managed to watch Reprise twice and absolutely love it both times. Todd has given it a wonderful review (my own shorter review available elsewhere) and I’m disappointed that it’s taken me so long to transcribe this interview, but it contains some interesting discussion about the genesis of Reprise, the cast, the musical choices, and more.

(Note: The two gentlemen in the accompanying image are in fact Espen Klouman Høiner and Anders Danielsen Lie, the stars of the film.)

Mathew Kumar: Where did the plot of Reprise come from?

Joachim Trier: I guess it started really when I was in London and I was finishing my education at the National Film and TV School. I’d been there for at least 4 or 5 years. Eskil had moved to Paris and was going to La Femis film school…

Eskil Vogt: Yes, I think we had this sort of nostalgia for Norway that we hadn’t quite understood yet. So we were working on big English language genre projects, but these other ideas kept popping up. After a while we understood we had a particular Norwegian story that had to be told with Norwegian characters.

I guess we were working towards something satirical, humorous, but also serious, about the people we knew and had grown up with. Along the way we were very influenced by a Henry James short story called The Lesson of the Master, which is about a young writer, and we were very inspired by that, because it’s an example of a story about a creative artist that isn’t pretentious. It was a long process; the script took us several years. We worked on other things at the same time of course.

MK: You were working on your short films at that time?

EV: I made some short films, and…

JT: I got a career in commercials to pay the bills.

MK: You hear a lot about commercial and music video directors making the transition into features, what did you take from your experience on that side?

JT: I started out filming skateboard films and then quickly made the move into narrative short films, so I’d been doing that for several years before I started doing commercials. So I had originally started my training with actors and narratives, but having worked on commercials, I was able to train the technical aspect. With Reprise we used a lot of digital effects in post production, but I didn’t want it to be flashy. But the only way I could master that or know how to use it that in a creative way rather than be a victim of machines. I think there’s something to be said for commercials as a training ground for working with more expensive equipment. The downside is obvious; picking commercials can be quite tricky. I still try to be selective and get something with a good aesthetic.

But the script we worked on for three and a half years, and Eskil was also involved a lot in the process after I’d cast the actors, itself a huge process. We saw over a thousand people and most of them were non-professionals.

MK: Yeah, I’d seen that one of your actors [Espen Klouman Høiner] is actually a copywriter?

JT: One was a copy writer, one works in a record store, a couple of musicians, one is a stand up comedian…

After we got the cast set, Eskil came back in and we talked and we looked at rehearsal tapes and we worked on one last draft. I don’t want to improvise on set, particularly with amateurs. They think that it’s easy, but actually you have to be a screenwriter in your head. The structure the story and the scenes were set, but we did just a little bit of changing to the dialogue to really fit the actors, because they were already quite close to the characters.

MK: I can really see that because I don’t think of particularly the two leads as actors. I think of them as their characters.

JT: That’s another funny thing and another reason that after having lived in London for a while, and having an agent and reading international scripts you think it’s great to have such a personal authority on the first feature that you’re representing.

In Norway there’s a really good soft money subsidizing system. I mean, it’s not easy, you really do have to work for it but it’s free money, and though you do know you have to work within a really low budget you are quite free aesthetically.

It gives you the freedom to not cast stars and give the audience, even in Norway, absolutely no opportunity to see the actors rather than the characters. And that’s a great freedom.

MK: Talking about the characters, how much of them reflect you?

EV: Well, we’re not exactly the characters, I’m not Phillip and he’s not Erik, but these are characters that are a mix that we’ve known…

JT: It’s a personal film, but it’s not private.

EV: The story is more taken from anecdotes, an approach, and the way people talk…

JT: The way people talk, the relationships, and more about an attitude, I think. It’s not random why we chose to tell the story in this way, we wanted to sort of mirror the way the minds of these young guys work. We wanted to express their temperament through form; someone yesterday called it “dirty formalism” which I quite like. Another journalist called it “Antonioni on amphetamines”. Such a huge compliment. I think it’s the combination of the music, and these characters that we know really well and the things we care about: friendship; dreams and ambition; and memory and identity.

Memory and identity is actually a theme that has gone through all of the short films that we’ve done. Somehow these themes are things that go through all our works, themes that we feel give themselves to cinema, those are the things that we like to explore.

MK: The punk aesthetic feels very much a part of that in the film. How do you feel that punk has influenced you?

JT: A lot. It’s funny, in many publications, even in Norway, people talk about the French New Wave, but you could easily say Godard was punk, so there’s an argument for that, but the two main cultural influences I can say that I’ve had is that first I was into hip hop, when I was really young, and then I got into skateboarding and punk. The abruptness, the breaks, the fragmentation, the mixing the blending of things, I’d say those things come from music as much as from film history. So we want to express that.

In the UK over the last few years there’s been a sort of post punk revival and it was sort of happening while we were writing the early stages, and we were happy because the music was from when we were young. Because, you know, we’re ten years older than the characters and we’re the generation of the older brother, we’re the ironic people who have a sort of lost faith about politics and have an ambivalence about it.

But then you see this younger generation, like my little brother’s about the same age as the characters, and they want to do something serious. Our generation is counter culture but not really activist. But for the young generation it’s more important to them to make an impact. It’s hard to generalize about generations but there’s something to be said about this slight generation gap which we want to talk about.

MK: A silly question based on that then, Phillip likes Kari because they both admit to not liking the Clash; can it possibly be true that you don’t like the Clash?

JT: You know, I never quite got them, that’s the thing.

EV: They have some great songs, you can’t deny that.

JT: I mean, it’s great but to me personally it was never really hit me. I have many friends that hate me for it, but I tried to like them so much and it just doesn’t work! We mostly put it in to rile our friends.

One last thing about the music I want to say. In Norway we don’t have a strong sense of national pop culture, and there are a lot of alienated people. Now I think it’s getting a bit better, and we hope to contribute to that with Reprise, we hope that some young people will feel they have something that represents them. Musically it’s been better in the last ten years than it was when we were growing up. We always listened to music from other countries.

EV: But there’s something to be said for the kind of Anglo-Norwegian connection somehow.

JT: There’s a lot of British, Manchester music influence in what we do. There’s Le Tigre of course from New York, we’re mixing. But I think it’s in contrast to show a certain kind of European style.

EV: In Norway our culture is not that strong, literary tradition is quite strong but pop culture is note so strong. So even liking British music over American is kind of counter culture.

JT: Yeah, it’s a subtle point as they’re both foreign music but there’s a real difference for Norwegians. So these guys are into British music, you know, French literature, and we can see how within Norway they might feel alienated.

MK: There’s a lot of good stuff about the interaction between men and women in the film. For example, Lars’ speech on women.

JT: I think that that whole spiel, we always imagined that it was a ritual that they all loved and hated him for. You know, they’d all laugh at him but they’re sort of fascinated by his theory, which probably comes from some sort of insecurity as well. It’s very specific to that age. One year later you might not be able to have that conversation, as the film shows.

In one way, we were kind of trying to show this shit that they talked was part of the glue that held them together, but the moment that broke they could never really be that way again to say those types of things. I love them for saying those stupid things because it’s a perfect symbol of their togetherness.

EV: These are certainly kinds of things where we thought, we’ll that’s not the film talking, that’s just one of the characters saying something to get an effect, get a rise out of people. But a lot of girls come up to us and say “yeah, it’s a bit true…” and we’re like, “wow”, they don’t find it provocative at all.

JT: We really thought that people would get pissed but it hasn’t happened!

JT: This also all about context and meaning. It’s hard to define, but a group of boys becomes a family. We didn’t want to say something that was general but we wanted to say something that was representing those characters. It was also perhaps about nostalgia, having lost that sort of group of friends.

EV: Because it’s really about the period for that group of friends where they’re hanging out more but it’s become habit, perhaps they’ve even started to drift apart and should redefine their friendship. Really the last summer that they’d hang out that way. And that’s what we tried to capture.

JT
: And it’s sort of the tradition of cinema, originally in I Vitelloni by Fellini, it’s got this group of young men in a small town in Italy. Also it’s seen in lot of the American moves like American Graffiti. But I haven’t seen a film that takes these characters serious and doesn’t treat them as idiots in a while. I haven’t seen one that doesn’t look down at the audience.

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jon paisSeptember 17, 2006 11:55 AM

Thank you for sharing this superb interview. This has to be on the top of my list of most anticipated films. (I first read about Reprise at europeanfilms.net, where the film is called a sort of Norwegian "Jules and Jim". There are worse comparisons!
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