VIFF 2021 Review: The Worst Person In The World (Verdens verste menneske)

Julie (played by Renate Reinsve) looks for long-term love with Aksel (played by Anders Danielsen Lie) in the film The Worst Person In The World.

Establishing your career and settling down in love is normally something done when your in your late-20’s, early-30’s. It seems like it’s harder than ever nowadays. The Worst Person In The World has a look at a Norwegian woman trying to do exactly that.

The film starts with a prologue, leads into a twelve-chapter story, and ends with an epilogue. Julie is a woman about to turn thirty. Her road leading up to this age has been bumpy with career pursuit decisions in her academic years starting as a medical student, then switching to psychology and then pursuing a direction in photography. Approaching thirty gets to her as she finally has a serious boyfriend. This haunts her as she compares her life at 30 to her mother and many generations of her grandmothers before her. Things change when one of her photography subjects is Aksel Willman: an acclaimed politically-incorrect cartoon book author who is 15 years older than her. This is just as his cartoon Bobcat is to be adapted to a feature-length film.

Julie drops her old boyfriend for Aksel. The relationship gets more serious and it even stimulates Julie to pursue a career in writing. One weekend, the two spend it at Aksel’s parents’ house in the woods. There she meets Aksel’s brothers and nieces and nephews. That is a sudden reminder that Julie is reaching the family-planning years. To add to the frustration, Julie crashes a party after a publishing event for Aksel. There she meets a coffee barista named Eivind whom she becomes attracted to. They spend the night together, but urinate in the bathroom together to not spark any rumors of the two cheating on their significant others.

Things become more serious between Aksel and Julie. Julie writes a blog about oral sex in the age of #MeToo and Aksel is impressed with it. Then Julie has her 30th birthday with her mother and sisters. The father is a no-show. He does show up hours later as his excuse is his back. She’s hurt her father hasn’t read her blog. On the ride home, Aksel says she should make her own family. That’s difficult for her, especially with Aksel, because she’s sensing love for Eivind. One morning while everything and everyone in Oslo stands still, she’s able to meet with Eivind at his coffee store and kiss him. Over time, Julie gets disillusioned with her relationship with Aksel. The turning point is where Aksel has dinner with her and his sister-in-law. During the dinner, Aksel is constantly ranting how the film of Bobcat is a watered-down family-friendly Christmas-themed version of his comic stories.

It’s after a date with Eivind Julie is convinced Eivind is the one and breaks up with Aksel. But not after sex one last time! Becoming one with Eivind was a bit of a wait. He was married to Sunniva. However even before he met Julie, his love for Sunniva was fading. She learned from a DNA test she had Sami ancestry, albeit a small percentage. She changed herself to embrace her ‘Sami roots,’ pursue yoga, and become a climate-change activist. He met Julie at the right time, but there was still the wait to divorce. With the divorce finally settled, Julie and Eivind can finally become a pair. Eivind still follows Sunniva on Instagram, which Julie doesn’t have a problem with. However things take a turn for the bizarre when Eivind hosts a party and gives everyone psychedelic mushrooms. Julie takes some, and it sends her on a trip where she sees bizarre visions of the wrath to her father, her fear of having children, and images of Bobcat’s insanity. She feels she can be herself around Eivind.

It’s clear Julie still has feelings of attraction to Aksel as she’s at a gym working out and she watches a television interview he has where he staunchly defends the cartoon series’ past misogyny to the female host. However Aksel’s brother soon visits Julie at her job to tell her she has pancreas cancer and it’s inoperable. Soon after, Eivind discovers a short story she wrote which he believes is about her family. Julie angrily denies this and in her anger, belittles Eivind for staying a barista. Her perceived irresponsibility of Eivind is also why she doesn’t tell him she’s pregnant at first. Julie meets Aksel at the hospital. Aksel is devastated over the fact he doesn’t have a future. Aksel tells Julie after she tells him she’s pregnant she’d be a good mother. However she can’t decide whether to keep the baby or not, especially after she finally reveals to Eivind the pregnancy and she breaks up with him. Julie does see Aksel one last time. She does a photo essay of him where he visits his past places, including the school he attended where he was first inspired to be a cartoonist. The last thing he says to her is he regrets he can’t live on as something more than a memory to her. The film then ends with the prologue showcasing Julie’s current profession, and a chance encounter with Eivind all this time later.

Entering into adulthood and establishing yourself has never been easy. We have a protagonist many people can relate to. She’s made three different major decisions in her schooling as a reflection of her career choice. She’s finding her way, but now she’s at the age where she’s expected to establish herself, to settle down, and to form a family. The career path choices were hard enough, and along sparks a new career ambition after meeting Aksel. What makes it hard for establishing a relationship is the two men she’s torn between. One is a comic book artist who appears to have it together. The other man appears not to have it all together, but she’s in love with him. It’s there where she has to make decisions about her situation and who she will want to spend the rest of her life with. Her choices will eventually seal her fate.

The funny thing about it is this is happening in our modern times. Adulthood is hard to define. Julie compares her life at 30 and where it should be in comparison to past generations of her female ancestors. Meanwhile she’s torn between two men whom she loves, but can’t help but see as man-boys. One is a 44 year-old cartoonist of an obnoxious comic series about to be adapted into a film. He’s actually quite mature, if you take away the fact of his profession. Then she’s also attracted to a barista who’s more of a boy and has a lot of irresponsibilities. It’s a concern to her. Who should she love? Should she have a child? If she does want one, who should be the father? Will she be a good mother? Will either of the men accept the role of fatherhood? Add to the mix of things like social media-think, each person’s professions, current family situations and other people in their lives. You can understand the confusion in there.

The most unique thing about this story is that it goes from being a comedy of love in our times and the complications around it to suddenly adopting a more tragic tone. That comes as Julie learns Aksel is dying and Eivind’s true colors are starting to expose itself, especially after she learns she’s pregnant with Eivind’s child. We suddenly find ourselves no longer laughing at the irony and bizarreness of the situation and now sensing the seriousness of the situation. As Aksel is dying admitting personal thoughts to her, Julie starts wondering if Aksel was the one all along. The one worth loving and having a family with. We even wonder if it’s worth it for Julie to bear Eivind’s child. Mother a child to a man-boy so self-indulgent? In the end epilogue, we see a glimpse into the present that is a surprise for all to see how time elapsed for Julie and Eivind.

Norwegian-Danish director Joachim Trier directs a delight of a film. It’s common to see a film in chapters, but a film with twelve chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, and to make it all work in two hours of time, that’s something! The story he directs and co-wrote with constant colleague Eskil Vogt is the last film of his ‘Oslo Trilogy.’ I can’t compare to the other two because I haven’t seen them. As for this film, it’s a creative story as it tells of a common love triangle mixed with the confusions and distractions of the time along with the protagonist’s dreams and the wrath of Bobcat mixed in. Somehow Bobcat makes his way into Julie’s personal life! All of it is a complicated process, but the film makes it work by putting it all together in winning fashion.

Despite the story and direction working together, it’s also the excellent acting of Renate Reinsve as Julie. This story is all about Julie. Reinsve embodies her dreams, desires, confusions and frustrations in winning fashion. She embodies the comedic side of Julie as well as she embodies her tragic side. It’s a complex performance she does in remarkable fashion. The actors who played her two lovers were also great. Anders Danielsen Lie is great portraying Aksel as a man quite mature for a comic book artist and then transitioning to Aksel being a hurting man facing death too soon. Herbert Nordrum is also great in his role as Eivind, embodying his immaturities quite well.

When I first saw this film, on the last day of the VIFF, it was in the running between two other films to be Norway’s entry for the Best International Feature Film category for the upcoming Oscars. Recently it was announced to be the official entry. Even outside this Oscar category, the film has already won a lot of acclaim. It was a nominee for the Palme d’Or for the Cannes Film Festival this year. Reinsve’s performance as Julie won the Best Actress award at Cannes. The Jerusalem Film Festival awarded it the Best International Feature. The Ghent Film festival nominated it for it’s Grand Prix Award. Cinematographer Kaspar Tuxen won some film festival awards of his own including the Silver Camera 300 Award at the International Cinematographers Film Festival and the Silver Hugo award at the Chicago Film Fest. The latter of which gave him a claim for use of 35mm film, inclusion of natural light and carefully rendered interiors.

The Worst Person In The World is a funny but sad story of a woman trying to make it in a career and find a partner she can settle down with. It’s a film that does get you thinking in the end.

Oscars 2020 Shorts Review: Documentary

It was a big wonder if I would be able to see the Oscar-nominated shorts this year. The theatres are still closed and now is a case where in BC, places can’t have more than 10 people at a time. It’s frustrating not to be able to go places. Nevertheless I’m happy to have the chance to stream the shorts. To start with, I’ll be dealing with the Documentary nominees:

Colette: dirs. Alice Doyard and Anthony Giacchino – During World War II, Colette Marin-Catherine was a young French woman who took part in the resistance against the Nazis. Her older brother Jean-Pierre, stockpiled weapons for the resistance. He was caught, tried, and extradited to the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp where he was eventually killed. It’s 2019 and the 75th Anniversary celebrations of D-Day are approaching. Colette is to make a return to Dora-Mittelbau to come to terms with her past: a past that still upsets her 75 years later. She doesn’t know if she can do it. She relies on director/producer Alice Doyard for help. During the trip, it appears she might not be able to do it. She can’t hold herself as the mayor of Dora-Mittelbau makes a speech about preventing such an incident like happening again. She confides in Doyard her past and her fears as the moment is approaching. Then she visits the Camp. It brings back bad memories. Then she visits the oven where her brother is executed. She’s in tears and she says her goodbyes to Jean-Pierre.

This is an important film. This is a film that reminds you that very often, wounds and scars are very heard to heal, even 75 years later. Peace needs to be made, but peace is hard to achieve. Especially after something this horrific. The film does an excellent job of making it Colette’s story. However it also does a good job of making it Alice’s story too. Dealing with Colette, she learns a lot and is also overcome with her own emotions. The two even develop a closeness as Colette passes her brother’s ring onto her. It’s a great short film about humanity.

A Concerto Is A Conversation: dirs. Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot – Composer Kris Bowers is about to perform a concerto he recently wrote at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Interviewing him is his grandfather: 91 year-old Horace Bowers Sr. Horace Sr. had just come from a celebration honoring him for his dry-cleaning business that has served the area of Los Angeles he lives in. Kris appears in many an outfit. During the film, Kris interviews Horace and Horace interviews Kris. Horace reveals how he escaped the segregation in Florida for a better life in Los Angeles. He talks of racism he experienced in LA, but an opportunity to make a business happen. Kris talks about music, how much it means to him and some of the music he wrote over the years. The film then ends with his concerto and his grandfather watching on.

This was the last of the documentaries seen as part of the five-set. Since the other four were of depressing subject matter, it was nice to see one of an uplifting story. This is a story of a grandfather and grandson who are successful in two different ways. The grandfather owns a dry-cleaning business that has been hugely successful in the Los Angeles area it serves for decades. The grandson is a composer whose musical scores have been heard in video games, television and film including Madden NFL, Mrs. America, Green Book and The United States vs. Billie Holiday just to name a few. The film shows what it’s like to be black in the United States. It’s also as much about the triumph as it is about the struggle. The film is both an interview where one asks questions to the other and a show of a bond between the two that’s on full display during the documentary’s 13 minutes. You’ll enjoy it and be enlightened.

Do Not Split: Charlotte Cook and Anders Hammer – This film is a compilation of footage of the Hong Kong protests. The footage takes place over a period of eight months from August 2019 when the protests start to March 2020 when Hong Kong goes through social restrictions because of the COVID pandemic. The footage is of various individuals you will only see once and some individuals you will see constantly in the film. In the film, you will see images of the protests, rioting and even makeshift places of shelter they use during the protests. You will see a lot of actions they take, but you will also hear them speak their mind about the issues.

This film will capture your attention and will not let go. This film really gets you concerned with the students and their welfare. If you are up to date on the situation in Hong Kong, the film will make you side with the students and give you a good understanding why they’re fighting this. The arrangement of the footage is great at capturing the essence of the story as well as giving the people their voice.

Hunger Ward: dirs. Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Shueuerman – The film is focused in two therapeutic feeding centres in Yemen. The film focuses on the two female doctors in the feeding centres. Over in the centres, the doctors have to deal with children near death and as well with the families. This is happening during the Yemeni Civil War during what the UN calls the biggest current civilian crisis in the world. The film shows how they deal with them, how they weigh them, how they deal with near-death situations and their attitudes of the whole issue. They even show the aftermath in two cases when the child dies. It shows devastating reactions from family members and the frustrations of the doctors. One of the nurses keeps an album on her iPhone of images of all the children she dealt with who unfortunately didn’t make it. The film also shows survivor stories, like of two girls that did make it.

This is a film that showcases an issue that often gets overlooked by the media. We hear of wars but we often overlook some of the effects of the wars, like how it affects children. This is a film that definitely has a message about its topic. This malnourishment during the Yemeni Civil War ranks Yemen second only to the Central African Republic for the worst child malnutrition in the world. The doctors themselves have their own messages to say. One talks of how Yemen used to be such a great nation, but it has now fallen. The other doctor, she blames this child malnutrition not only on the war but the whole nation, including herself. The film also includes the two survivor stories as messages of hope. The film ends sending a message that the stories of hope and tragedy you see are part of an issue that’s still fighting. I admire how a film like this showcases a message the world’s news cameras rarely focus on. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

A Love Song For Latasha – dirs. Sophia Nahali Allison and Janice Duncan – The film is narrated from young women who knew Latasha Harlins personally. For those who don’t know who Latasha Harlins personally, Harlins was a 15 year-old African-American Los Angeles girl whom in 1991 was shot to death by a hostile storeowner in L.A.’s Koreatown. The store owner was found guilty of manslaughter and was given a very lenient sentence which had no prison time at all. In this film, you hear from women who used to know of Latasha of who she was and of her hopes and dreams, including a dream to be a lawyer. You see images of areas where Latasha lived and played and went to school. You also hear from one woman of the store Latasha would meet her fate. She talks of how the owner was already known for her hostility. Latasha knew of it but brushed it aside, saying “She won’t kill anybody.” She couldn’t have been wronger that day when she went to simply buy some orange juice and the storeowner thought she was shoplifting. That led to a violent confrontation where the owner shot her in the back of her head.

The film gives a human image of a person who was a subject of racial tension back in the early 1990’s. For those that didn’t know, the L.A. Riots of 1992 were started by the reaction of the verdicts of the police officers in the beating of Rodney King. however the Koreatown area of Los Angeles was a particular scene of much of the rioting. The death of Latasha and her killer’s lenient sentence was most to do with that. In fact the liquor store Latasha was shot dead at was burned to the ground during the riots. This film creates Latasha not simply as a victim of racism, but as a young girl with hopes and dreams. The media shows one thing; these girls show another thing. The film also showcases images of Latasha’s childhood, images of Latasha at school, and images of young African-American girls in poses of confidence.

This is a documentary important to have out. 2020 was known for its race riots. This film takes us back to the race riots of Rodney King and shows how complex of an issue racism is and how it’s not just one central story that’s the cause of the friction. Yes, the reaction of George Floyd’s death is what provoked the riots of 2020, but George Floyd wasn’t the only victim. Same with Rodney King and the 1992 L.A. Riots. The story of Latasha reminds us it’s not just Rodney’s incident that provokes such an angry backlash. The story reminds us that Latasha is not just a 15 year-old African-American girl who met bad luck that tragic day. She was a somebody. She was a person that mattered, and she will never be forgotten. That’s why I make this film my Will Win pick.

And there you have them. Those are my reviews of the five films nominated for the Oscar category of Best Documentary Short Subject. Reviews of the other short films coming very soon.