JOACHIM TRIER SAYS HE FORGOT ALL ABOUT MAKING FORMAL FILMS & "BECAME A HUMANIST FILMMAKER"
Joachim Trier's latest film, The Worst Person In The World, is essentially a character study. Although he jokes to Tara Brady at The Irish Times that after film school, "I forgot all about making formal and experimental films," one of the things that makes the new film stand out are the daring formal flourishes, such as when the world around his main character, Julie (Renate Reinsve), seems to freeze for nearly an entire day -- long enough for her to make a bold decision during the split-second that her boyfriend moves to pour a cup of coffee. With a moment such as this one, and others, it seems that Trier long ago embedded formal experimentation into his intuitive cinematic mindscape. Here are the final few paragraphs of the Irish Times article:
“I don’t believe in genres really,” says the director. “But I do believe in them as playful guardrails or support wheels along the way. And yes, we did look at The Philadelphia Story by George Cukor. And I do love Notting Hill. And I do love the fact that even in these very light, romantic films, you can find some sort of existential pondering. And so I’m not against calling our film a romcom if that’s how one defines those films. But I do admit that we go somewhere slightly darker with this one after a while. Maybe dark is the wrong word, but perhaps more melancholic.”
When The Worst Person in the World premiered in the Official Competition at the Cannes Film Festival last July, Trier was following in the footsteps of grandfather Erik Løchen, artistic director of Norsk Film from 1981 to 1983 and a filmmaker whose drama The Hunt was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 1959. His co-writer Vogt’s second feature as a director, The Innocents, premiered in the same line-up.
“My grandfather was in the Resistance during the second World War,” says the filmmaker. “And he was captured and barely survived. He was very traumatised. And he played jazz music, I think, to try to get it out of his mind and to live his life. And he started making movies around that notion, and reading experimental literature. And in 1959 they invited him to Cannes and said: Oh, this is New Wave. For him, it was a jazz movie. It was a great thing. And it mattered a lot to our family. And in a strange way, my grandfather helped make the support system that I’m now privileged enough to make movies through. So going to Cannes was a big deal for me.”
Trier has, accordingly, been around the film industry his entire life. His mother was a documentarian and his father was a sound technician; both, he notes, were anomalies in Norway, where the film industry was comparatively tiny. As a teenager, Trier became a skateboarding champion who shot and produced his own daredevil skateboarding videos. He was still surprised when he found himself enrolled in Denmark’s European Film College and then London’s National Film and Television School.
“It’s weird, because as a kid, you realise those kids who cannot shut up cannot be allowed on set,” recalls Trier. “So you learn this great respect for silence, especially around film, especially around my father, who was a sound recordist. My mom primarily did documentaries, but I was also on set sometimes with her and it was just like seeing grown-ups play.
“What’s even weirder is, when I was 18 I finally told my friends, you know what, I want to try and make a living as a film director. And I felt that it was like a coming out moment. And all my friends went, yeah, we knew that. Because I’d been filming all along, making weird super-eight movies. I guess I’m not as gifted as Julie. I didn’t have options. I had only one thing I could do.”
Trier cites the work of Robert Bresson, Alain Resnais, and Andrei Tarkovsky among his primary influences. Studying in London, however, proved equally impactful.
“The National Film and TV School was really, really important,” says Trier. “I was rebelling against it most of the time because I came from a formal background and I wanted to make films like Brian De Palma and Antonioni did. I wanted to have complete control and they wanted us to collaborate. I found that difficult. But we had such great teachers. Stephen Frears taught us and he’s brought so many great actors – like Daniel Day Lewis, and Uma Thurman and John Malkovich – to prominence. And he taught us that you can’t fake great casting. We had talks from Mike Leigh and from Robert Altman.”
He laughs: “And they must have all brainwashed me, because I forgot all about making formal and experimental films and became a humanist filmmaker who’s interested in observational drama and collaborating.”
Joachim Trier on Louder Than Bombs - Fan of De Palma, Roeg - works intuitively "in what I call dirty formalism, or pop formalism"