Review: Thelma (2017)

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Thelma (2017)

Directed by: Joachim Trier | 116 minutes | drama, romance, thriller | Actors: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Ludvig Algeback, Isabel Christine Andreasen, Camilla Belsvik, Lars Berge, Vanessa Borgli, Grethe Eltervåg, Ingrid Giæver, Steinar Klouman Hallert, Oskar Pask

‘Thelma’, the fourth film by director Joachim Trier, opens with a beautiful winter shot of a Norwegian lake, completely covered in ice. A little girl follows her father, who is carrying a shotgun. Moments later, when they spot a young deer in the snowy forest, the daughter can’t take her eyes off the beautiful animal. Vader puts on, but slowly turns the barrel of the gun toward the back of his daughter’s head. When she turns wide-eyed, the moment is already over. Dad lowered the gun. But the sudden threat emanating from the scene lingers for the rest of the film. For what is the matter with this girl, who made her father do this?

The daughter is, of course, Thelma, and we met her again (now played by Eili Harboe) when she is a first year student in Oslo studying Biology. The girl with the big eyes has turned into a beautiful but shy student, who has trouble socializing. The bookcase in her student room is completely empty and she lives almost literally out of a suitcase. It gradually becomes apparent that she was brought up in an extremely protected way in a strict Christian family. In fact, it’s a miracle that her parents let her go to college, because not only do they seem to distrust science (you don’t need it to trust God, after all), they also want daily phone updates from Thelma about her. do and leave.

But Thelma is ready to discover the world and especially herself. The first to help her with this is fellow student Anja (Kaya Wilkins). However, after an initial brief conversation in the library, Thelma has what appears to be an epileptic seizure as crows fly into the window. Anja triggers something in her that she cannot control. And it’s clear that it’s something supernatural. As Thelma struggles with her feelings for Anja, she has more attacks. But the doctors can’t find any indications of epilepsy. When a doctor reports that her medical history is showing a nervous breakdown as a little girl, repressed memories suddenly surface in Thelma. And it slowly becomes clear what possessed her father when he pointed his gun at her.

Revealing more than this would ruin the movie experience. It’s enough to know that ‘Thelma’ is a supernatural coming-of-age thriller. Stylistically very beautiful (thanks to cinematographer Jakob Ihre) and with a stimulating theme (the screenplay is, as with Joachim Trier’s other films, co-written by Eskil Vogt). An association with Brian de Palma’s Stephen King film adaptation ‘Carrie’ (1976) is easily made. There, too, it was a supernatural coming-of-age story about a young woman who had been brought up in strict faith. But Trier makes it more nuanced and deepens the parents’ perception of the world. Both Henrik Rafaelsen (father Trond) and Ellen Dorrit Petersen (dam Unni) are very strong. The first because of the understanding he manages to arouse from the viewer, the second because of the extremely subtle way in which she finally shows that she is terrified of her daughter.

The motive (religious) repression is handled beautifully, but the film loses some of its narrative power when Thelma’s supernatural gift comes to the fore. There are all kinds of interesting ethical issues to tie up with her, but Trier prefers to leave those to the viewer. He steers purely on the experience and it must be said: he does that very beautifully. There is a wonderful serenity about the film, similar to ‘Let the Right One In’ (Tomas Alfredson, 2008). Eili Harboe is fantastic as Thelma and her chemistry with Kaya Wilkins gives me goosebumps, so strong. It’s a shame that the film leaves something behind on a narrative level. But it offers more than enough food for a long chat, and the re-watch value is particularly high.

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