Auteur Joachim Trier Lets Us Direct His Interview

by Daniel Warren

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The Norwegian director speaks to us about narrative intent, the progressive influence of literature on cinema, and the international audiences who help greenlight indie dramas.
For the sake of presentation, let’s pretend that Trier is directing my Skype conversation with Trier. We might set the camera up, outside, an exterior from a nearish rooftop, maybe a story or two higher than my perch in a small office on the second floor of the Flaunt HQ.

The camera pushes down and in, ever so slowly. In a line from the surveilling camera to the Skype window, we see traffic at a standstill, a blocked intersection. A flexing crane lifts plywood sheets from streetside up to the roof of a construction site, a row of palm trees bow in unison to a fierce winter gale, yet you hear only my soft breathing, and the emanating voice of Trier.

In Louder Than Bombs (2015)—starring Jesse Eisenberg and Rachel Brosnahan—after an acclaimed war photographer dies in a car wreck, we follow her husband and her two sons. It’s a quiet examination of how a family processes grief, how they each internalize a selective narrative of a personally and communally important woman.

Trier’s films tend to follow characters through the mundane, often foregoing or minimizing what we’d call defining narrative “events.” Much like Godard during his 'Golden Era,' or Alain Resnais in Hiroshima Mon Amour, Trier writes characters who recount in voiceover what they will or won’t remember at present, or who look back and dictate what they do remember of this or that trivial encounter.

Close on Skype window. Joachim Trier sits in a sparsely furnished room.

I’m tired of cliché questions—tell me who will be influenced by your films.

That’s a great question. Let’s start with quoting Luis Buñuel. He said “I make films for my friends and my friends’ friends.” You always dream about getting a lot of friends with every film and they might be different people but ultimately you don’t really know.

Tell me about your forthcoming film—in your words.

We have a mother who has passed away and she has two sons who are both going through formal years of figuring themselves out as men. One has just had a child and is confused about his ability to have relationships. The younger son is fifteen, going through puberty, and dealing with sexual infatuations of a girl in his class. You have sex and death in the story.

I think the best films I’ve seen have the capacity to blend grotesque things with very beautiful things. If anything that’s how you have a very sublime cinematic experience.

When you say grotesque, you can also say, intimate, or honest about what happens in a young person’s life. There’s the scene where erotic tension turns into kind of a vulnerable moment of a girl peeing. It’s a lot about realizing the reality, the base level of something, as opposed to idealization.

[When I write a film, I want to] stay hardcore, I want to stay with the themes and characters that arrive as we write. Let’s try to create movies that have that personal curiosity from our side.

Define cinema in your own terms.

I think cinema is to me, the theatre, it’s one of the last places where i have space for contemplation in the dark with my cell phone turned off, without checking all kinds of bullshit, just watching movies.

Trier’s films work for me because they are free from exactly this type of commodified bullshit. They are a private reflection of the greater reality: we each carry an accretion of experiences, and, in spite of accelerating technological capabilities, we physically lack the ability to remember everything eternally.

Now to the camera, the one creeping in on us— through the telephone wires, and sashaying leaves, the camera peers through the window, between the blinds, making out my lips and my smile, my hands lifting a ceramic cup and the steam wafting off the warm coffee.

Yes it took forever to get here, and there’s not much happening, but enjoying Trier’s cinematics places you in good company.

Photographer: Siv Dolmen.