LITTLE ROCK "Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies," Gore Vidal once conceded, and his words could serve as an epigraph for most literary friendships. Writers are notoriously bad friends, thieving material from every incidental conversation and jealously competing for crumbs in an increasingly marginalized marketplace.
So one feels nervous for the almost interchangeable Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), who stand before a mailbox at the beginning of the stylish, enjoyably irrepressible Norwegian film Reprise. About to mail off manuscripts of their first novels to prospective publishers, they are poised on a precipice: Whatever happens next - whether their works are read, published, rejected, praised or panned - will affect the balance of their relationship.
At this point the movie races ahead as a wise and gently ironic narrator details one of the possible scenarios that awaits Erik and Phillip (who seem more like aspiring pop stars than young poets). Critical appreciation and popular success, weeks in Paris with beautiful girlfriends, all their dreams fulfilled ...
Then the rug is pulled and we're back at the same spot as a more modest yet no less romantic scenario plays out. It's the first of several times in the narrative when first-time director Joachim Trier - a distant cousin of Danish director Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark) - breaks forward only to pull back. This creates a sense of breathlessness and genuine kinetic energyreminiscent of Tom Twyker's Run, Lola, Run. It also captures something of the restless testing of styles and ideas common to first novels.
In the end it's not so important which of the possibilities is the actual one; the point is experiencing a headlong rush into the speculative future. Phillip becomes a minor sensation when his novel is published to critical acclaim, but he has more trouble adapting to his success than Erik does to the rejection of his work. Phillip has a nervous breakdown, brought on by his romantic obsession with lovely telemarketer Kari ( Viktoria Winge).
Erik accepts his own apparent lack of talent with equanimity, then sets to work on a second book. It gets published and draws the attention of Norway's most important writer, a Salinger-like recluse (no doubt modeled on Tor Ulven) named Sten Egil Dahl (Sigmund Saeverud). Phillip and Erik are ardent admirers of Dahl, but it is Erik's book that Dahl likes, although he advises the young writer not "to be poetic."
It's a wry comment in a film full of wry comments and textural gestures - Trier mixes film stock and references to MTV-style jump cuts and the French New Wave (Truffaut's Jules and Jim is an obvious point of reference) to the extent that the pyrotechnics threaten to become overwhelming. Still, when stripped of flourishes, there's a human-scale story at the heart of the film. Callow and dazzling, Reprise is a punk-fueled paean to young adulthood when everything is possible - even enduring friendship.
MovieStyle, Pages 41 on 07/25/2008