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'The Worst Person in the World' Film Review: Charming Romantic Drama Offers Unfolding Delights

Cannes 2021: Veteran Norwegian director Joachim Trier has made his most appealing and marketable film to date

Norwegian director Joachim Trier continues his series of films about young Oslonians with the charming romantic drama “The Worst Person in the World,” which premiered on Thursday in the Main Competition section of the Cannes Film Festival.

The film is about the life and loves of a restless 30-year-old woman named Julie -- and in the lead role, Renate Reinsve delivers a standout performance that places her firmly in the Cannes awards running. Her Julie is funny and skittishly unsure of herself as she begins a relationship with an established and admired comic book artist, Aksel. He is played by Anders Danielsen Lie, the lead in Trier’s previous Oslo films, “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st,” which brings a Richard Linklaterish theme of time and connection to this loose trilogy of people adrift in the city.

But this is Trier’s most appealing and marketable film yet, casting Oslo in a gorgeous light and capturing its vitality and sophistication through the seasons, with scenes in a lakeside summer house, city coffee shops, a university campus, book launches, photo shoots and parties. There’s more than a touch of Woody Allen here: An early scene features the couple arranging their bookshelves while Billie Holiday plays in the background and, later, there’s even a direct (though unacknowledged) quote of the famous Woody line about not wanting to live on through my art but wanting to live on in my apartment.

Trier breaks his film up into 12 chapters, using an occasional authorial voiceover to narrate Julie’s actions with witty distance. The device allows the film to jump from scene to scene with ease and permits a sketchy cast of supporting characters to have their impact, among them Julie’s estranged father and Aksel’s squabbling family.

Juggling slightly altered tones in each chapter, the director also employs several surprising cinematic tricks, such as short bursts of animation, a lovely sequence detailing a wobbly mushroom trip and a memorable freeze-frame scene when Julie pauses the action to run through the city to meet a new lover.

This is a film of unfolding delights, providing a terrific canvas for the actors. Experienced Oslo theater star Reinsve seizes her breakthrough screen role with gusto, defining a new template for contemporary Norwegian women in a film that tangentially examines the hard life they’ve had over the centuries, back to when Julie’s great-great-great-great grandmother’s life expectancy was only 35 years.

Julie wrestles with career ambition, maternal impulses (or a distinct lack thereof) and sexual desire; she’s a complex character full of self-awareness and self-loathing, hence the film’s title. But Julie is as alluring as she is self-destructive and we follow her every outfit change and haircut as she develops through the chapters.

Meanwhile, Danielsen Lie adds to his impressive work for Trier. He played the agonized author in “Reprise” and the wandering drug addict in “Oslo, August 13th," and he returns here with a performance that brings angst, edge, male fragility and, in the end, huge sympathy.

As Julie’s new lover, Eivind, actor Herbert Nordrum provides some comic relief and a lot of charm in his naivety and hopeful, reliable honesty. With its hipster vibe, eclectic soundtrack -- Cymande, Harry Nilsson, Todd Rundgren, Art Garfunkel, Chassol -- and attractive images from Danish cinematographer Kasper Tuxen, “The Worst Person in the World” stands a very good chance of international success after its Cannes debut. And it might just put Oslo on the desirable-destination map when the travel business gets going again.

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