The worst person in the world (15) ****
The Hermit of Treig (PG) ****
It’s a little hard at first to see what the fuss is about when it comes to Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s two-time Oscar nominee. The worst person in the world. This story of a woman in her twenties going through an existential crisis at the age of 30 doesn’t seem to do anything particularly radical or profound. It revolves around Julie (Renate Reinsve), a medical school dropout so overwhelmed with anxiety about the digital age that she can’t decide whether she wants to be a surgeon or a psychologist so embarks on a career in medicine. creative aspirant. Fumbling a bit of photography and a bit of writing, she is a gallery assistant’s job far from a dilettante cliché and Trier actively reinforces this with conscious literary structure – chapter divisions, omniscient narrator, intertitles explaining the theme – to shape his falsely shapeless life.
But by presenting Julie as an archetypal hot mess, Trier also pulls a bait and switch to tell a more subversive story about a young woman having the courage to repeatedly shoot her life with no guarantee that her choices will bring her joy. The film explores this through her relationships with two men. The first is Aksel (Trier regular Anderson Danielsen Lie), a middle-aged comic artist all too aware of the potential Pygmalion dynamic in their budding relationship. The second is Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who is around Julie’s age and works a slacker job while pursuing a more meaningful interest in environmental activism. The title’s first invocation occurs when these relationships overlap, but Trier treats them differently, rooting one in the messy banality of real life and presenting the other with the cinematic flair of a swoon-worthy romantic comedy.
Which relationship is more fulfilling, however, is a question the film boldly chooses to remain ambivalent about, focusing instead on the relentless Julie and her ongoing quest to define herself. This can make her and the film distant, and Trier frequently frames things from the outside. But there’s a formalistic purpose here that becomes more evident during a key scene in which the film’s all-knowing narrator compares Julia’s meager accomplishments on her 30th birthday with those of her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. -grandmother, etc. – the life of each ancestor being particularly marked by the number of children they had had when they reached Julie’s age. It is designed to contextualize Julie’s relative freedom at a time when motherhood is not – or should not be – the defining aspect of a woman’s life. Yet the pressure to procreate is still subtly and persistently applied to Julie, who adopts a polite mask of noncommittal inscrutability lest society damn her with the film’s title for daring to thwart biological expectations. This is why Julie can sometimes feel like an underdeveloped character; or, in her own words, why she feels “like a secondary character in [her] own life.”
Much of this pressure comes from Aksel and there is a telling scene where he tries to console Julie after an emotionally charged visit with her estranged father. “You have to start your own family,” he tells her on the bus ride home, to which Julie can only smile uncertainly. The scenery of the scene is also no coincidence. Consciously echoing the often misunderstood ending of The Graduate, it is quickly followed by Julie shooting her life again. The film is good at subtly unraveling the complexities of modern relationships in this way and it’s carried by Reinsve’s multi-layered performance. She doesn’t behave like romantic leads usually do because this isn’t a movie about a character looking for someone to complete her. It’s about a character looking for a way to complete themselves.
Winner of the Audience Award at the recent Glasgow Film Festival, The Hermit of Treig is a beautifully filmed portrait of Ken Smith, the title’s aging hermit who has spent the past four decades living off the grid in a homemade log cabin on the edge of Loch Treig near Fort William. First director Lizzie MacKenzie spent seven years getting to know her subject before letting her start filming and it shows in the charming bond that emerges as she gently tells her life story while asking her about the challenges ever-changing life in nature. The end result is a soft, illuminating picture of what makes a life fulfilling.
In Master, debut writer/director Mariama Diallo uses the auspices of high horror to examine institutional racism at a prestigious Yale-like university. Regina Hall takes the lead as a newly appointed homeroom teacher as the first “housemaster of color” in a campus dorm that’s said to be haunted by a burning witch from the Salem era. Zoe Renee co-starred as a young black freshman assigned a room in which a caption-troubled former student hanged herself. Both women quickly experience things happening in the night, but the ghostly apparitions have nothing on the daily micro-aggressions they are meant to ignore when engaging with the majority of teachers and teachers. white students. The film is most unsettling when it dramatizes the insidious psychological effect that all token gestures toward inclusivity have on the two women, but Diallo struggles to make the gender elements cohesive in anything other than a superficial afterthought.
The Worst Person in the World and The Hermit of Treig are in theaters from March 25; Master is streaming on Prime Video now.
A message from the editor
Thank you for reading this article. We are counting on your support more than ever, as the change in consumption habits caused by the coronavirus has an impact on our advertisers.