Review: Julie’s Narcissistic Circus peeling out of The Worst Person in the World, directed by Joachim Trier

The Worst Person in the World, directed by Norwegian Joachim Trier is screening at the European Film Festival South Africa. The hybrid festival is on in cinemas and online- October 13 to 23, 2022.  However, The Worst Person in the World is only screening online, from today, October 14 to Sunday – October 16.  The Worst Person In The World screens in cinemas, at The Labia (Cape Town) and The Zone (Johannesburg) on October 23 and then that’s it so this is a quickie review. Info here: Booking:

The Worst Person in the World premiered in competition at the 2021 Cannes Film festival and Renate Reinsve won award for best actress for her role as Julie, a young woman, as she flits between medical studies, psychology, photography, relationships and much pondering about the meaning of life, art. The narrative culminates in her milestone thirtieth birthday. Reinsve is incandescent as self-confessed flaky, Julie. She is mesmerising to watch and holds this film – all the way. The film was nominated for Best International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay.

There are glowing reviews and there are many reviews which slam the film for its banality.  I started off as a slammer. The film is divided into twelve chapters and a prologue and an epilogue. Watching the first seven chapters, I felt irritated by the narcissism of Julie and her millennial cohort – a bunch of self-obsessed young privileged dudes- seeking out the meaning of life. There is a cutesy 3rd person narration, intoning Julie’s insights (reminiscent of Sex in the City), just in case we don’t get the point. When Julie gives up her medical studies, her mother is cool and again totally supportive when she makes her other shifts in career. I am sitting there and thinking: Who cares. Do I need to carry on watching this narcissistic bunch of people, living in Oslo? Do I care that Julie is conflicted about having children and that her relationships dominate her life? I wonder how she maintains a high standard of living and where is she going with her photography and what is the point of that, anyway. Julie muses: “I am standing on the sidelines of my life – only playing a supporting role.” Okay, well get on with it, already.

And then boom, chapter 8, popped up. The title: “Julie’s Narcissistic Circus”. This is exactly my thinking about this film and there it is- on screen. Whoa, I sat up as the film shifted gears, radically- gripping cinema. Narcissist, self-involved Julie who proudly carries her ‘flakiness’ as a calling card, is fleshed out, beyond cut-out cliché. Around her, we see other people frozen, like those ‘living’ busking sculptures. Julie is jolted out of her self-absorption and she is now able to move – emotionally.  Breathtaking cinema here. Julie faces aging. Plot spoiler image alert: There is Julie’s dream with the imaging of her as old with saggy breasts and flesh overflowing, like yeast rising and expanding. She is breast feeding in this horror-mare. Comic book images puncture the space [former squeeze is a comic book artist]. It is a vividly fabulous piece of cinema- graphically and in terms of its emotional poignancy.

Julie faces death and mortality.  Her former squeeze mutters that nobody cares about “completely useless things”, like “knowledge and memories”.  And art- no one cares. At the end, what matters? Love matters. Life matters.  So, yes, in my opinion The Worst Person in the World is an intriguing film. If you can hold out until chapter 8, it will be worth it and then the first chapters hang together. However, I think that the film could have been cut by a half an hour. I would have liked a lot less conversation and chit-chat and for Julie’s Narcissistic Circus to have been heightened.

✳ Featured image supplied by European Film Festival (SA).