Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: THELMA: Time & Space Meet Love & Repression [NYFF 2017]

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Thelma Review

Thelma (2017) Film Review from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, a movie directed by Joachim Trier, starring Eili HarboeKaya WilkinsHenrik Rafaelson, Ellen Dorrit PetersenLars BergeLudvig AlgebackIsabel Christine AndreasenCamilla Belsvik, Vanessa Borgli, and Grethe Eltervåg.

I walked into this movie blind – which is sometimes the smartest thing you can do. In this case, my theorem was proven correct, and I knew that as soon as Joachim Trier’s title card appeared. The very first segment of this film – with Thelma (inhabited masterfully by the young Eili Harboe) as a child and her father Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) hunting deer in the winter woods – will have you focused, intrigued, and make you grinningly shuffle into your seat. The entire audience I watched this with was dead silent – that rarely happens. There’s always a cough, or a paper crinkling. Once that epilepsy-induced “THELMA” card appeared, the entire auditorium respected this movie’s attention eough to graciously shut up for the following two hours.

Thelma is a biology student at an Oslo university. You can tell she’s shy, timidly moving from library to dorm room. She has no friends, and has seemingly relegated her connection to other people to her relationship with her father and wheelchair-bound mother. They talk on the phone almost bi-daily, their strong Christianity seeping through Thelma’s iPhone at every call. Apparently, she’s very religious, too, but once she meets Anja – a beautiful, kind, sensual chemistry student portrayed by Kaya Wilkins – it’s clear that Thelma is ready to open up. She wants to experience college, too – like a normal person – with all that comes with it. Alcohol, parties, marijuana, electronic music shows, and ultimately, sex. When Thelma realizes her strong attraction to the opposite sex, the world shakes in more ways than one. The Bible has warned of venal sins like this, and Thelma can’t seem to get past it.

I wasn’t sure where this movie was going for quite some time – but I adored that sensation. Why? Because I was tightly clutched into the comforting embrace of a masterful craftsman of a filmmaker. Every shot is necessary, and lasts long enough or short enough to get its point across. The score is absolutely fantastic, equal parts ominous and hypnotic. The movie looks great. Pacing-wise, it swims along perfectly. This thing moves, and is intriguing. Everything comes together perfectly, so if you’re put off by foreign films (please, live a little), or female-centric movies (ditto) -please don’t hesitate to watch this one. It’s incredibly engaging, and throws you some genre-film bones throughout. In short, Thelma has more in common with Carrie or Black Swan or Akira than it does a French art film about love and poetry. The theme here, though, is how damaging it can be to repress physical desire, or block past mental traumas. The only way is through – and Thelma certainly doesn’t make it look easy, but it’s thoroughly exciting to watch.

I’d rather let this movie play out for you as it did for me – by knowing little else. But be assured – this movie goes places, many of them entangled between dreams and science-fiction. It’s a smart man’s sci-fi thriller. A movie involving the unknowability of life, the universe, time and space for adults who can actually take the time to get to know a character first, before advancing the plot. And can you believe it, Trier actually does both things at once! If only other directors would realize that they can take their time with character development – that their spectacle, and visceral work will be twice as effective, because of it.

Remember this title – Thelma – and don’t read about it again. Catch it at a film festival, or at home once released on VOD or Blu-ray. This movie is essentially two hours of highly engaging storytelling. And while the ending may seem a little too cute to come full circle, it sort of fits in with the aforementioned concepts of time and space. There’s no real cheating here, and the experience preceding the conclusion was strong enough, on its own. I’ll be hoping to see a title card saying ‘Trier’ in front of all of my screenings all week, now.

Rating: 8.5/10

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About the author

Marco Margaritoff

I grew up in Hamburg to a German father and Ecuadorian mother. Obsessive student of film, Hip-Hop, and stand-up comedy. I love the dark dreambox that is the cinema auditorium. I love mountains and the ocean, but am equally exhilarated by the jungle of the city. I hope to one day create something that hits someone in the brain with thunderous effect.

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