It’s easy for foreign films to feel timeless. Summer Hours, Take My Eyes, The Taste of Others, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Respiro, Revanche, Up and Down — I try to think of my favorite European dramas of the last decade, and for most of them, I’m pretty sure they were set in the present time, but would not be bewildered to know they were set in 1995 or 1980. I can’t avoid noticing the details that tell us The Box and We Own the Night are period pieces, while Donnie Darko and Two Lovers aren’t. But when something’s set abroad, unless the plot hinges on some sort of decade-specific communication technology or political controversy, I can’t immediately put my finger on what details place it in a given year. And if a film is really, really good, the lack of concrete association with a time and place makes it seem even more univerally applicable to the human condition, or man’s journey against man, or whatever.
[Note: Possibly the most laughable use of technology to date a flashback within a film is at minute 30 of Righteous Kill, when the Leguizamo-D. Wahlberg cop duo is awed by an apartment so lavish that it contains a 32-inch flat-screen TV. Although, since the movie’s structure of “Robert De Niro describes a series of crimes that occurred over the course of his long career” is somewhat undermined by the fact that all the crimes basically occurred during the Bloomberg administration, it’s kind of nice of them to make it absolutely clear that something is happening in 2003 rather than 2007.]
I watched the entirety of Reprise [Joachim Trier, 2006], including closing credits, under the impression that it was by the same director as 2003’s Reconstruction, another nebulous movie about the various possibilities in the lives of two ambivalent young men. As it turns out, it isn’t even from the same country [although, Norway and Denmark…same country], and both films were debuts. Reconstruction is a shifting, claustrophobic, dreamlike story that contradicts and folds in on itself. Reprise is full of open spaces [everywhere except the house where Phillip’s mental illness gets better and worse], ambitions ranging from modest to outlandish, and characters always measuring themselves against outside forces. Seeing it through the lens of the earlier film was like watching Summer Hours after being dismayed by Irma Vep. “That one was a lovely math problem…but this one is a story!”
Notwithstanding my Literature of the Americas professor, whose habit was to make every assignment “Comment on [Ethnographic Short Story A] through the lens of either [Ethnographic Short Story B] or [Ethnographic Short Story C]”, writing about random coincidences that bring two disparate things together is not really productive. So I’ll shift now to commenting on Reprise through the lens of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
I haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim, because being 28 and no longer in my college town, I am panicked by the idea of nostalgia already for moments of my adulthood. I didn’t go out of my way to see  Days of Summer, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or Paper Heart either. Small stories [The Exploding Girl, Funny Ha Ha] can make me think about my life in a new and refreshing way, but adventures of Earth’s most funtastic twentysomethings evoke memories of feeling out of place among those people’s provincial analogues. A Hollywood movie hipper than me? After seeing the total botch of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in Stranger Than Fiction, who’d be more comfortable in Empire Records or Singles, I didn’t think that would happen for a while yet. But we have to come to terms with, you know, time, death, shoes, socks, hair, haircut.
But Reprise is a movie like that, and I was able to love it because it’s set in a parallel universe [Norway]. A parallel universe in which I couldn’t tell whether it’s anachronistic that the two main characters dream of becoming celebrities via intellectual novel-writing. It’s about people my age, going from awesome carefreedom to a transitional period of uncertainty and compromise that may last the next 60 years. It has one of the 21st century’s best party scenes [“Who took the bomp?”], and the jumps into what-if storytelling are both playful and affecting, as we don’t know if they’re the characters’ plans, idle fantasies, or the narrator’s absolute knowledge of what the alternate scenario would be.
Ty Burr’s review perfectly describes the plot and characters; what’s left to say?
First: the film goes on generous tangents about Phillip and Erik’s friends, explaining where Lars or Geir came from and his role in their little society, but Phillip and Erik’s girlfriends [Kari and Lillian] are exclusively seen through Phillip and Erik’s eyes. I feel like this was intentional. Lillian is not that important to Erik, especially in terms of how he envisions his career, while Phillip sees his romance with Kari [that’s her as Anna Karina in the above still] as integral to his success. So many other details like that emerge during the film to distinguish the two guys from each other, in temperament, self-image, strategies for dealing with strangers…all of which are obviously going to direct them down different paths in life, as they wonder why they aren’t moving in tandem as they had dreamed.
Second: There’s a wonderfully sympathetic depiction of literary publishers, especially the woman who takes special interest in Erik [and walks away from one scene as if in panic that his friends are infecting him with wrong thought and she can’t do anything about it]. In movies about writers and other creative types, we can expect agents and publishers to be cynical philistines, often comic relief [e.g. Jim Belushi in The Ghost Writer]. Here, there’s a heightened discussion between writer and publisher, as both try to show how indispensable they are to the other, and what each of them understands that the other doesn’t. We the viewers/readers have no idea what “Prosopopoeia” means; why doesn’t Erik care?
Third: Reprise! It’s hip, it’s now, it’s what’s happening! It shows the young generation as it really is — the love of Joy Division and late-80s punk, the irresistible urge to write novels with stark, text-only cover design, the struggle for the glamour conferred by newspaper reviews and professorial round-table TV discussions. The stakes are low, as the characters kind of know what their lifestyle and peer group will be, no matter how “successful” they are, but what stakes could be higher than the very synapses of the human brain?