One of the most successful films from 2021’a Cannes Film Festival was the Norweigian film, The Worst Person in the World. The film follows protagonist, Julie (Renate Reinsve) and runs through her life as she tries to find her passion in a world that expects too much of younger generations. The film is split into a prologue, 12 chapters and an epilogue in which we learn more about Julie and the people who are in her life. Boasting one of the best screenplays of 2021, a performance for the ages and direction that is captivating and personal, The Worst Person in the World is a film that explores societal expectations and treatment of women and generational differences while also including discussions on climate change and legacy. With so much scope in terms of themes, there is a lot that can be dissected in The World Person in the World meaning that people can take different messages and interpretations, while remaining hilarious and gripping throughout. With plenty of critical and commercial acclaim, The Worst Person in the World has been able to make a mark on awards season and has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay as well as Best International Feature Film.
The film was directed by Joachim Trier who co-wrote the script with Eskil Vogt and marks the final installment of Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy”. The direction is absolutely stunning with plenty of appreciation for the natural landscape and the city. The Worst Person in the World is very much a singular character study but has such a beautiful tapestry of characters that it helps to communicate the complexity of this one person’s life thanks to the sharpness of the script. Trier and Vogt waste no line of dialogue and ensure that each second contributes something meaningful to the overall story. This means that not only does the film have longevity and a timelessness about it, but it also makes it rewarding to watch time and time again. Trier’s direction is nothing short of spectacular with plenty of innovative decisions to showcase Oslo from Julie’s perspective to such a degree that we really feel as though it is her universe thanks to the level of concentration.
Given the nature of the film, its success lies heavily on lead actress, Renate Reinsve’s shoulders who provides an absolutely transplendent performance as Julie. From the opening shot of her smoking her cigarette, Reinsve immediately pulls you in with her confidence and depth of character. Julie is deeply flawed, curious to a fault and makes awful choices throughout the film, but this doesn’t make her a bad person. The Worst Person in the World is ultimately an extensive singular character study that allows us to see every side of Julie through her failures and successes as she tries to figure her way through life. What is truly magnificent is how Reinsve maintains her energy through the whole film as she becomes Julie. There are plenty of monologues and speeches dotted throughout, but the moments of silence and contemplation are where Reinsve really shines. The emotional weight of the character means that the role of Julie is not easy to take on, but Reinsve proves she is more than capable and was even awarded the Cannes Award for Best Actress and received a BAFTA nomination for Best Leading Actress which she will hopefully win.
Even though the film is dominated by Julie’s characterisation and Reinsve’s star-making performance, there are plenty of excellent supporting turns. The best of these goes to Anders Danielsen Lie who plays Julie’s ex, Aksel. Aksel’s journey is an intriguing one as he starts off by being a provocative comic artist whose work is extremely popular but incorporates plenty of misogyny with the final chapters of the film chronicling his terminal illness as he succumbs to cancer. There is a sense throughout the film that Aksel and Julie are truly destined for each other and will eventually get back together since they seem to fit well as a couple. The scene in which Julie visits Aksel in hospital and he tries to reassure her when she finds out she is pregnant allows Danielsen Lie to channel Aksel’s vulnerability, especially as the character’s mortality begins to close in.
Playing Julie’s eventual boyfriend is Herbert Nordrum as Eivind. Where Aksel wants to settle down and start a family, Eivind shuns that lifestyle and is content with his job as a barista. Initially it seems that Eivind and Julie have a lot in common thanks to their relaxed personalities, their differences soon emerge as Aksel’s illness comes to light. Nordrum’s performance as Eivind is fun and the chemistry he has with Reinsve is evident, especially in the second chapter when they first meet one another. The scene in which Eivind unsuccessfully reassures Julie over a story she had written and thrown away is incredibly intense thanks to Nordrum’s controlled responses and calculating nature that comes through subtly through the film.
One of the best elements in the film outside the acting is Kasper Tuxen’s cinematography which helps to elevate the locations thanks to the beautiful use of natural light and innovative shots such as Julie running through the street where the world has stood still. The cinematography goes hand in hand with Trier’s vision thanks to its focus on Julie and Tuxen’s ability to show the audience Julie’s world almost as though it is directly from her perspective. The scene when Julie is tripping on magic mushrooms is both crazy and claustrophobic at the same time as we delve into Julie’s psyche and see the situation from her perspective followed by the reality of what has happened the next day when the flat has been messed up.
There is a reason why The Worst Person in the World has gained as much traction as it has. Not only does it combine flawless elements into one film, but Reinsve’s performance is deeply affecting and feels like a real tour de force. Blending a perfect mix of daring comedy and hard-hitting drama, The Worst Person in the World is a film that demands conversation and can be enjoyed on a surface level thanks to its entertaining comedy and heartbreaking moments, while also allowing for plenty of thematic analysis for those who want to dig a bit deeper. Trier has proven himself a true visionary while Reinsve has delivered a suckerpunch of a performance.
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