The final instalment of his ‘Oslo Trilogy’, Danish-born Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier’s latest film The Worst Person in the World (OV: Verdens verste menneske) premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where its leading lady Renate Reinsve won Best Actress. She plays Julie, a thirty-something who is unsure of the next step in life.
A photographer who is in a steady relationship with comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), Julie slowly becomes uncertain about their future. One evening, she impulsively decides to gatecrash a wedding reception, where she is drawn to barista Eivind (Herbert Nordrum). Although their connection lasts one night, it makes enough of a lasting impression for Julie to question where her life is going, as well as her relationship with Aksel.
From the outset, Julie is depicted as someone who is indecisive. She chooses to leave a prospective career in surgery and psychiatry before entering photography and is uncommitted to long-term relationships until she falls for and quickly moves in with Aksel. However, their initial easygoing chemistry quickly sours when the issue of children comes up. Although Aksel is keen on starting a family, Julie is clearly uncomfortable with the idea and perhaps swayed by the unsteady relationship with her indifferent father, who puts his new family (and younger daughter) first. With these doubts in her mind, Julie is easily charmed by Eivund, who seems to share the same uncertainty in his own relationship with yoga influencer girlfriend Sinniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo). Through candid and intimate conversations that see them remain loyal to their respective partners, their chemistry allows the narrative to slip into a slightly foreboding tone so the film goes on, we see that Julie’s sense of (life) direction doesn’t come as clearly as she hopes.
With a two-hour runtime, Trier breaks this down into chapters and heartfelt interactions that meander, sometimes aimlessly, through Julie’s restlessness. Co-written by Trier and Eskil Vogt, the screenplay doesn’t hide Julie’s naivety in life (a visual timeout presenting an all-too-easy escape), as well as her uncertainty of children and settling down – especially as most of her peers have already crossed one of these thresholds. Similar to Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, the narrative sees our heroine possess a lack of clarity with a subtle degree of selfishness but Julie’s struggle is a relatable one: does she want children, should she want them or is she expected to have them? It is a situation that most women experience at some point in their lives, and Trier builds on Julie’s personal dilemma with sensitivity, especially she undergoes break-ups, loss, and regret – which are exacerbated on a bad trip involving magic mushrooms.
The film, ultimately, belongs to Reinsve whose delicate and nuanced performance as Julie makes her a compelling protagonist with her struggles lingering behind her coy smile amid a gorgeously minimalist portrait of Oslo, thanks to Trier’s intimate direction and Kasper Tuxen’s beautiful cinematography.
Overall,The Worst Person in the World is one of those rare films that can make you smile while breaking your heart. Displaying beauty and tenderness, it is an honest and melancholic insight into relationships with Reinsve’s winning performance elevating its simple premise.
Director: Joachim Trier; Eskil Vodt (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum
Runtime: 121 minutes