It’s easy to see why Renate Reinsve won this year’s Cannes Film Festival best actress award for her work in The Worst Person in the World.
Reinsve plays Julie, an Oslo resident, who has been struggling for much of her 30 years to work out what she wants out of life. Her story is told through 12 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue.
In the prologue we learn Julie was an excellent student who, due to her marks, decided to study medicine. Realising she was more interested in minds than bodies she transferred to psychology. But that also failed to satisfy so she switched to photography. Her romantic relationships were similarly determined by whims and phases.
By the end of the prologue Julie is working as a shop assistant in a bookstore. Then she meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). He is 14 years older than Julie and the successful author of a cult underground comic series about a non politically correct feline called Bobcat.
The two move in together and at first seem very happy, until the age difference and what both want comes to the fore. He wants kids, she doesn’t. He has a successful career, she is still working in the bookshop and doesn’t know what she wants to do.
A party to launch Aksel’s new book changes everything. Bored, Julie leaves the party early and, on her way home, makes a spur of the moment decision to crash a wedding party. Here she meets barista Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who is closer to her age. The sexual tension is immediate and the two spend the evening engaging in heavy flirting.
When they accidentally meet up again the attraction proves too much to resist and Julie leaves Aksel for Eivind. But eventually Julie also realises this relationship isn’t for her.
While at times it’s easy to get frustrated with Julie’s behaviour – as she does, hence her description of herself as ‘The Worst Person in the World’ – she’s not deliberately malicious. She just doesn’t know what she wants out of life.
And as the movie proceeds her uncertainty becomes more of an issue as brilliantly captured by Reinsve. From being young, playful and fancy free she gradually becomes more serious and brooding.
The scenes when she tells Aksel she is leaving him and her subsequent re-connection with him when tragedy strikes are particularly revealing and moving.
Her fun side and sexuality is clearly evident when she first meets both men while her confusion and family issues come to the fore in a rather graphic hallucination scene caused by magic mushrooms.
Norwegian director Joachim Trier, who co-wrote the movie with Eskil Vogt, uses a number of techniques to illustrate Julie’s feelings including music, short bursts of animation, a freeze frame scene and a voice over.
It’s this mix of techniques together with the storyline which makes The Worst Person in the World challenging to describe. It features some humorous scenes and there are certainly some romantic moments. But you wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a traditional romantic comedy especially given certain outcomes. Maybe it could be described as a coming-of-age experience even though this description still doesn’t feel quite right. But there’s no doubt Reinsve’s performance is just right!
The Worst Person in the World is opening at cinemas around Australia on December 26.
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