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Danish-Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier’s latest film The Worst Person in the World is a wry, wistful, heartbreaking ode to modern love

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July last year.

The Worst Person in the World-1200A poster for the film 'The Worst Person in the World'. (Source: mk2 films)

When we first come upon Julie, she is limned against Oslo’s skyline, her back partially to us, so that we can admire her lovely, lithe lines, in criss-crossing spaghetti straps which hold up her little black dress. It is a striking portrait of a girl and her city, and what is about to unfold upon us are the connections she makes, and breaks, as she navigates the bends and stretches of places and people in Danish-Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier’s wry, wistful, heartbreaking ode to modern-day love, longing and belonging, The Worst Person In The World.

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By the end of March, we will know whether it will be the first among the many excellent films up for the Best International Feature at Oscars ’22. But the hosannahs for the film have been mounting since it premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, in which Trier received an ovation, and his leading lady, Renate Reinsve, a well-deserved Best Actress Prize.

The playfulness with which Trier structures his movie (Epilogue, 12 Chapters, Prologue) allows him to tinker with time, speeding up initial moments in Julie’s life in which she changes hair length and colour, lovers, and possible vocations at dizzying speed. Did you ever want to be a medical doctor, a psychologist, a photographer, all at the same time? She is going to be 30, this flitter, who ricochets from one situation to another, led by an inner restlessness. Will the 40-something successful comic-book writer Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) be her anchor? Or, will she, as is her wont, go looking for something more, and find it in the laidback, pleasant server-of-coffee Eivind (Herbert Nordrum)?

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Part of the charm of the film are the sly flashes of insight that Trier and his co-writer Eskil Vogt build into the screenplay, which allow us to add layers to the mercurial girl who is at the centre of this narrative. The one who is looking for herself, even as we are looking at her: we learn that she has a father who clearly has been emotionally absent, and has physically removed himself from her orbit. Does her wariness to commit stem from that absence?

That much-discussed sequence in which Julie runs through the streets, her face lit up and expectant, in which everything else — humans, automobiles, traffic lights — is frozen, is as sparkly as advertised. What saves the film from being imbued by the scenes’s preciousness is a turn of events which have lasting consequences: Julie’s discovery and response to Aksel’s final-stage cancer slows her down, fills her up with his despair and pain. In this part, the two come together as they never have while they lived with each other, with Aksel speaking of how all he wants is to live in his apartment with her; how he doesn’t just want to be a memory.

The weight of those moments balance the flightiness of the earlier episodes, and the film reaches its core strength. Grief can break us. And sometimes, rescue us.

First published on: 11-03-2022 at 04:02:35 pm
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