Joachim Trier | The Worst Person in the World
[…] «You have got to be an avid viewer – that's the secret to all of cinema.»
[…] «There’s that tradition of using love as a mirror of the existential, it’s a question of love and death, and that's pretty big, let’s be honest, and now, in my fifth film, I somewhat felt that I was ready to take on those big issues.»
Text: Pamela Jahn
It’s never too late to experience a coming of age, but when one realises that it is continuously delayed, that can hurt deep inside. Or it can liberate. Julie – an exceptional Renata Reinsve – walks on the ridge between solitude and family, freedom and liaisons, exploring both sides and still preferring to remain in between, where the social bonds are more a question of curiosity than of construction.
Joachim Trier’s narrative style is made up of brilliant details that are able to seize so many true facets of humanity. This miniature work still manages to draw a grand architecture of cinema, where an arbitrary amount of daily life episodes can make the almost epic portrait of a persona who is neither the worst nor the best but simply, and dramatically and intensely, herself.
Giuseppe Di Salvatore
Interview with Joachim Trier
by Pamela Jahn
Pamela Jahn (PJ): Mr. Trier, why do we struggle so much with love regardless of our age?
Joachim Trier (JT): I don’t know, you tell me. I feel that this milestone in life of turning thirty is an interesting one. I touched on this in my films before, this idea that on the one hand you realise that you are now an adult, but at the same time you feel that you haven’t really grown up. I tried to make a rite of passage or coming of age film of sorts. It is a little bit strange because usually you would associate a teenager with this type of genre, but for some reason, I can’t explain it, I feel that today it is equally relevant for someone who is almost thirty or maybe even in their forties. There seems to be a discrepancy between the idea of what we feel that our life should be and what is has become, and I think the story we tell in the film is talking about a relationship that is out of sync with time, in particular in the first part of the film, when Julie is with Aksel, who is more of a retrospective and more self-assured person.
PJ: And who is the same age as you.
JT: Absolutely. We thought of that as we started writing the film. We figured that it would be an easy access point to the story, even though we knew Julie would be the lead character. But then, when we started working on Julie, I realised that it was quite liberating to be able to access a lot of material like thoughts and emotions that I had in myself for someone who is not me exactly, but someone that I understand deeply.
PJ: Do you feel turning thirty is different for men than it is women?
JT: It’s a good question, but it's hard to answer. I can't speak for everyone but, at least where I grew up, it’s not such a big deal whether you are married or not. Even if you live in a long-term partnership, but you don't want to get married, that's fine. Maybe this is a Scandinavian phenomenon. The big deal, however, is whether you have a child or not, and for women that's worse. I think having a child deals with your own biology, it deals with mortality. And then there is Julie, who grew up in this very privileged part of the world, in Norway, where she's had free education and she’s good at school and the future looks bright, but she feels like she’s failing completely at using these great opportunities. She feels like, as we say in Norway, the worst person in the world. If you can’t make it in Norway, where everything should be so easy, then what do you do? Besides, I think that for women the pressure of having children arises earlier than for men, but still, it’s something that I can identify with as well.
PJ: Perhaps women in their thirties don’t necessarily hear their biological clock ticking yet?
JT: That could be the point, and you could probably say that about every individual, but in Julie's case I feel that she does hear it, this is what the story is about: these inner arguments that we fight with, the expectations we have of ourselves. On the other hand, there are many different factors that play into her behaviour. It’s not only the question around whether or not to have children, this is just one aspect, but there is much more to it.
PJ: Where did you get your inspiration from for the sequence where the entire city stops in time?
JT: Do you remember Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by John Hughes ? There is a scene in the film where Ferris Bueller starts singing a song in the middle of Chicago and everyone is dancing around him, and when I was young watching that film, I always asked myself, is this real or not? It didn't really matter, because it was cinema, but to me, it looked more like a documentary compared to the rest of the film. And yet, at the same time it’s obviously a kind of a fantasy. So, while working on my film, I remembered that. I wanted to make a musical in a way. I wanted to make a rich, warm film with colours, but I don’t know how to make people sing, I’m not a musician. So, the sequence you are referring to is something that came from this way of thinking, to find a way to show that Julie is with someone that she loves but she also finds this new man that she is intrigued by, and don’t we all sometimes wish we could stop time and take a break from our life until we figure something else out and turn it on again?
PJ: Are there any other references that played into the film?
JT: I think there is a sense of screwball or romantic comedy in it as well, but if you look at George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story  for example, Katherine Hepburn has to choose a life through her choice of relationships. However, I didn't want to make a film about a woman who needs a man to have a life, that seems very old fashioned. What I find fascinating though is that The Philadelphia Story becomes an existential story about realising who you are through your different relationships or different potential partners. Notting Hill [Roger Michell, 1999] is another interesting film in that sense. It’s a film about how an idealisation can be an entrapment, how to be idealised and successful can create a sense of loneliness between people, and in a meritocratic society where everyone wants to be great and successful, that’s a statement. But you have to look for the theme and not be misled by formulaic genre definitions. You have got to be an avid viewer – that's the secret to all of cinema.
PJ: Would you say that existential quest is something that goes through all of film history?
JT: Yes, and you also see it in literature, like in the works of Edith Wharton or Henry James, from the late 1800s, where you get a large proportion of the English and American society experiencing freedom and, for the first time, there are also a lot of modern women. Many of these stories are about women who, for reasons of economic or another advantage, don’t necessarily need to marry. As a man, I always identified with them. It’s beyond gender to me. There’s that tradition of using love as a mirror of the existential, it’s a question of love and death, and that's pretty big, let’s be honest, and now, in my fifth film, I somewhat felt that I was ready to take on those big issues.
PJ: Was Ingmar Bergman an inspiration at all?
JT: I think there’s something about Bergman’s no bullshit approach to looking at how people really are and getting terribly aggressively close to them.
PJ: And offering some love and compassion.
JT: I find that his compassion varies. When I was younger and perhaps stricter in my views, I thought there was too much compassion in cinema – I was a tough young guy. I changed, I’m older, I’ve reached a sense of acceptance and vulnerability in myself. I also need stories of hope, and I want to tell them. I think this is one of those. Like all of us, Bergman went through different phases, too. Some of his films are beautifully hopeless, and I respect that very much.
PJ: Why did you decide to tell the story in 12 chapters?
JT: Someone said to me that Vivre Sa Vie by Jean-Luc Godard  has 12 chapters, and I thought I would just do the same. No, seriously, I tried to make a melodrama and in order to create cinema, I think you need a contrast, you need different dynamics, and the literary form with chapters leaves spaces for interpretation, it allows the audience to breathe. In other words: the chapters liberated the story.
PJ: How closely did you work together with Renate Reinsve to develop her character?
JT: I always work very closely with my actors. We have a clear first draft, we have a framework, we have some intentions, but I do some quite long rehearsal periods where we spend a lot of time talking and reading the scenes, and she would come up with ideas. To be honest, this is difficult for me to talk about because I felt a kind of shame talking about the questions that we were initially discussing, like being a man or being a woman. On one level, I’m quite confident about my cinema and I've got to be confident about my voice, so I don’t doubt that, but I also didn't want to be clichéd about things, and working with Renate helped a lot to create a space to explore the character’s imperfections and passions in a really fascinating way.
PJ: The film is being considered the third part of a trilogy that started with Reprise and was followed by Oslo, August 31st. Did you plan it that way? JT: Not deliberately, it’s something that happened to us at the end of the screenwriting process. We cast Anders in the film and when he read the script, he said to me: «Actually, you are touching base with some of the themes of your earlier work in this and it feels like a trilogy now.»
PJ: Do you mind people calling it your Oslo-Trilogy?
JT: No, because we are tracking the story of a city's development and that is true, but I also want to make a fourth. So maybe there will a fourth film in ten years when Anders is older again. We were already talking about the idea that every ten years he plays a character that is confused again, because life keeps being confusing. That's the beauty of it and the curse.
This article contains a third-party video. If you would like to watch the video, please adjust your settings.
ONLINE STREAMING (Switzerland) by Filmexplorer's Choice on cinefile.ch
The Worst Person in the World | Film | Joachim Trier | NOR 2021 | 128’ | Zurich Film Festival 2021
Best Actress (Renate Reinsve) at Festival de Cannes 2021
First published: January 19, 2022