In his 2006 debut film Reprise, Norwegian director Joachim Trier began the Oslo trilogy with melancholy. He was followed by the 2011 “Oslo, August 31,” a silent tragedy about drug addiction. In 2021, he returned to his hometown to complete the trilogy with a touch of optimism.
Perhaps this is a sign of Oslo’s rapid expansion. Perhaps Trier and his frequent co-author Eskil Vogt have undergone shifts in worldview. Whatever the reason for the change in tone, “The Worst Man in the World” marks the end of a trilogy that recognized Trier as one of the most merciful directors of our time.
WSN met with Trier to discuss his views on Oslo and the difficulty of finding himself among cultural pressures to succeed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WSN: You said that this film starts out as a rum com, but gradually turns into something more existential. Can you talk about the idea of moving away from the genre? Was that what you had in mind from the beginning, or did it happen naturally somewhere in the process of writing?
Trier: Eskil Vogt and I, my co-authors, have made five stories, and each time we try our hand at some genre. The last film we made together was Thelma (2017), a kind of supernatural thriller that turns into a drama. So no matter what we do, in the end it always becomes a kind of drama of the characters. So we work the other way around.
WSN: I also want to ask about the decision to tell the story in 12 chapters, as well as the prologue and epilogue. Was this also what you had planned from the beginning?
Trier: Pretty early. This is a fragmentary way of telling a story. I wanted it to be like a hit record – every piece has to have its own little emotions to lead the story forward, not just think about the plot. I’m not so worried about the plot. I’m more about character and themes.
And it’s fun with the sections! You can vary. You can jump ahead in time. Suddenly Christmas and then summer again. And the audience will quickly add, “Oh, well, we’re moving forward.” Time passes through the movie and suddenly you were watching a piece of someone’s life without even knowing it because of the structure of the section. I think it allows us to progressively move forward.
WSN: You wrote this story with Renata Reinswe in mind for the main character, Julie. She is incredible in this movie. Are there any elements of her personality or identity as an actor that influenced the way you wrote the character?
Trier: It’s hard to break up because it was written for her, and I know her – she’s my girlfriend. I could imagine her interpreting or doing something. It was very, very beaten to the beat. She put things in the day. We also rewrote a bit after she read it. She really got the character, it was more about the wording of something or the accent.
She really wanted me not to hesitate to explore all aspects of the character. As the man who invites the lead woman to the project, it’s important to ask respectful questions about representing sexuality and nudity and all that. It is a dialogue and a process. She is very brave and she wanted all of Julie. We watch her go to the bathroom – the toilet – and we watch her make love, and we watch her get angry and sad, happy and dance. She really pushed the complexity of the character.
WSN: I want to quickly ask about my personal favorite scene in the movie, where Julie essentially stops time and leaves her boyfriend Axel (Anders Danielsen Lee) to spend the day with her romantic interest, Evind (Herbert Nordram). It is very innovative. What inspired this idea? How did it come about?
Trier: I have strange ideas every day, and sometimes they are not relevant until they fit into the scenario we are working on. So it was an old idea I had of how we all long to be able to stop the pressure of time and just run away and have an alternate day in our lives or something. And I suddenly realized when we were writing this movie, “Okay, we could apply that to this movie.” We have a lot of weird ideas that end up on the writing floor, but this one seemed to fit. So we brought him there.
WSN: This is the last film of the Oslo trilogy. How has your impression of the city changed since you started the trilogy 16 years ago?
Trier: It has become much bigger. In “Reprise” 15 years ago, the first line of dialogue takes place between two young people who want to become writers, and they say to each other, “God, we have to get out of this shitty city. It’s so little. Let’s leave this place. ” But now, at the beginning of “The Worst Man in the World,” Julie stands and looks at a city that has expanded tremendously over the last 15-20 years. And suddenly she feels the pressure of anticipation, the pressure of the city with opportunity. Like, how am I going to get into this and do something valuable? So I think it’s a change in Oslo. Oslo has become a more internationally oriented and larger city.
WSN: The title of this film “The Worst Man in the World” is based on a self-deprecating Norwegian phrase. Can you tell us about the name in relation to your home country?
Trier: We often joke that Norway is a country where people feel a lot of guilt. Oil was discovered in the 70s, and much of Norway’s wealth comes from it. There is a feeling that we have built a society with free education, free health care, wide access to opportunities for most people. If you fail in this country, feeling privileged in the context of the world, then you are certainly the worst person in the world, right? It’s a sense of self-abasement and failure, you know, that you’ve failed. And I’m trying to make a film that somehow says it’s okay not to be so confident or successful all the time.
WSN: There are many novice filmmakers in our readership. Do you have any advice for people who want to make movies like you?
Trier: Oh, it’s an honor. Yeah to give advice to young filmmakers. First, look forward to your films. I hope some of you are making movies for the big screen and embracing the wonderful tradition of feature films that I believe in so much – such a powerful opportunity to sit in a dark room with strangers and experience the same emotions – and really, really use and make this move forward. There is still a lot to learn, a lot of feature films that need to be shot for the big screen.
I also believe that dramatic originality is more important than ever. Currently, much emphasis is placed on immediacy, which needs to be captured in the first 30 seconds. Before a [movie] trailer, now you have a trailer for a trailer. That’s sick. It’s weird. What the hell happened? Like, it needs to be caught in three seconds – if not, it’s not valuable. The problem with that [is that] it grows into a lack of confidence and deeper thinking in things that take time.
They don’t need to be boring. Things like being in a good conversation with someone are like being with a good close friend. And two hours later you were like, “God, we’ve gone so deep. We thought of new thoughts that we had never thought of before. ” The brain works slowly.
You have to find time to get there. And I believe that in drama it’s important to be bold and courageous in the way you develop your storytelling skills so as not to apply the rule of speed because a lot of things are emphasized. I do not like “slow motion». I’m not even about that. I was talking about trusting your stuff a little bit and having a few balls – the wrong word. This is a Norwegian perspective [laughs]. But I think it takes courage to believe that your thoughts have value, even if it takes them a while to develop during the story.