J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

NYFF ’17: Thelma

Maybe it is just as well Thelma is poorly socialized late-bloomer, considering her raging hormones can make birds crash into windows. Her confused sexual identity takes on nearly biblical proportions in Joachim Trier’s Thelma (trailer here), Norway’s official foreign language Oscar submission, which screens as a Main Slate selection of the 55th New York Film Festival.

Go ahead and blame Thelma’s Evangelical Christian parents, Trond and Unni. Trier wants you to. He even shows Trond tempted to shoot his young daughter in the back of the head during a hunting trip in the opening prologue. Eventually, we will learn her parents had good reason to be freaked out by the little girl, but first we will root for the home-schooled Thelma as she finally tries to chart her own course as a university student in Oslo.

Just attending classes and living on her own are new experiences for Thelma, but her attraction to the pretty and popular Anja, confuses her greatly. In fact, the stirring of feelings will even induce seizures in the poor girl. Yet, a magnetic force seems to be drawing them together. Unfortunately, it might also ignite her darker, Carrie-like powers.

You can definitely tell Thelma is a Scandinavian film, in part due to its severely icy vibe and the ultra-modernist architecture. It would probably spoilery to discuss her supernatural powers, but they are somewhat unique—and also subject to heavily allegorical interpretation. Trier plays up the repressed lesbian angle, probably because it more closely relates to his angsty prior films, like Louder than Bombs and Oslo, August 31st, but Thelma’s developmental arc might have better suited his co-screenwriter Eskil Vogt, who helmed the subtly surreal and richly challenging Blind.

Still, Trier creates a palpable sense of mystery. Eili Harboe and Kaya Wilkins forge some convincingly halting, painfully-awkward-in-a-collegiate-kind-of-way chemistry as Thelma and Anja, respectively. Yet, it is Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Peterson who really make a lasting impression as the Puritanical but understandably conflicted parents, dramatically humanizing them, despite Trier’s efforts to stack the deck against them.

Jakob Ihre’s crisp cinematography and Ola Fløttum’s minimalist score reinforce the chilly, Nordic vibe. Despite all the roiling passions, this is a cold, deliberately crafted film. We can see its kinship with Vogt’s Blind, even though he was not at the helm. Recommended for fans of cerebral arthouse genre films, Thelma screens this Friday (10/6) and Saturday (10/7), as a Main Slate selection of the 2017 New York Film Festival.

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