Norway isn’t generally associated with romantic comedies, and the fact that the film features some genuinely upsetting moments for its characters might belie the categorisation, but Joachim Trier’s film delivers on the genre promise due to a sparkling performance by Renate Reinsve as Julie (echoes here of Strindberg’s Miss Julie), a character that at times tests your patience and sympathy.
Trier is an experienced film-maker – The Worst Person in the World is his sixth feature – whose influences span Scandinavia and Britain: he was born in Denmark and studied film both there and at the National Film and Television School (NFTS). The previous two films in his Oslo Trilogy, Reprise and Oslo, 31st August, bear some interesting parallels (addiction, creativity) with the work of another NFTS graduate, Joanna Hogg, notably in her Souvenir parts I and II.
Like the two earlier works in the trilogy, The Worst Person in the World features one of Trier’s regular collaborators, Anders Danielsen Lie, here in the role of Aksel, a comic-book artist. Lie was also to be seen in 2021 in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island, a film that meta-textually plays with the legacy of the titan of Scandinavian cinema and features, as a screenplay within a screenplay, an on-off love affair that connects Scandinavia to America. That transatlantic link is more one of directorial mood in Trier’s work, which might explain its pick as best foreign film by the New York Film Critics Circle.
While The Worst Person in the World is something of a departure for Trier in its employment of the comic register, it remains at heart a film about fraught relationships and youthful angst, but appropriately more in the style of the sardonic Noah Baumbach than the Bergmaniac Woody Allen. It’s a funny, charming and occasionally sad film from a director now reaching maturity.
“Blending melancholy wistfulness with unruly energy and piercing humour, it’s a down-to-earth tale of love and death, boosted by a brilliantly believable central performance and elevated by fantastical moments of hallucinogenic horror and ecstatic joy.” Mark Kermode, Observer
“an intricate, deeply emotional, intelligent exploration of how these relationships affect a woman going through them as she ages and grows more into herself in other ways, too.” Ella Kemp, Empire