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The Worst Person in the World (Verdens Verste Menneske)

The conclusion to the loose Oslo trilogy is “a romantic comedy for people who do not like romantic comedies”, according to the filmmaker himself - on Mubi in March; also available on other platforms

In 12 chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue, we meet Renate Reinsve starring as Julie. She is a woman pushing 30 and in a genre-typical state of indecision on what to do with her life. She frivously changes subjects and partners at university, searching for her purpose. So far, so romantic comedy and coming of age story.

Once again Trier teams up with trusted stalwart Anders Danielsen Lie, who plays a variation of his previous roles as troubled comic artist and older romantic interest Aksel. His oeuvre is the alternative comic Gaupe, heavily based on an actual ’90s Swedish underground comic series called Arne Anka about a drunken, cynical duck’s observations on society. Trier even had Charlie Christensen, the author of Arne Anka, draw the fictitious Gaupe strip. The male-centred ’90s’ comic does not hold up well in the modern MeToo climate, which makes for some amusing scenes.

Later on Julie is drawn also to the less intellectual Eivind with which the chemistry is sparkling off the screen. This is where we get the bravura sequence where Julie runs through a Norwegian capital frozen in time. While not as thematically grounded as in the classic sci-fi Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998), the set-piece is legitimately impressive both technically and emotionally. If somewhat show-offy.

Oslo is again a character in Trier’s films and the city is beautifully shot, with the characteristic Scandinavian emptiness being allowed space to breathe. Often in takes of a lone Julie walking deserted streets, underlining her apartness.

The chapter structure functions well in allowing us to feel the passage of time, and how specific events and seemingly random, impulsive choices can have a huge impact on Julie’s story. Like when a spontaneous Julie sneaks into a random party (an act not that uncommon in trust-based Norwegian society) and ends up meeting love interest Eivind.

The themes visited are familiar from the excellent Oslo trilogy films of Reprise (2006) and Oslo, 31st August (2011). A narrator with ironic distance steps in to comment on events as they proceed, illustrating the concept of being a spectator in your own life. The film examines finding your identity and place in society amongst illness and peer pressure. However, in The Worst Person in the World the treatment is rather light-weight and often dips into comedy. There is some subversion of genre tropes, and compared to Trier’s other films the female protagonist freshens up things quite a bit.

Still, I cannot escape the feeling of deja vu, there is not that much new here on offer from Trier. The playful execution is thoroughly stellar though, and I cannot argue with the radiant Reinsve’s Best Actress award at Cannes. Recommended, even more so if new to Trier’s films.

This writer watched The Worst Person in the World in the arthouse cinema Eslite, in Taipei. In cinemas Friday, March 25th. On Mubi on Friday, May 13th. On Curzon, Amazon Prime and Apple TV in June. On Mubi in March 2023.

By Truls Rostrup - 03-01-2022

Truls Rostrup lived (and enjoyed film festivals) in Buenos Aires, Tokyo and Taipei. Originally from Norway, he has now been based in London for more than 10 years. He was awakened to the possibilities...

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