Film Review – ‘Thelma’ (2017)

Film Review – ‘Thelma’ (2017)

Prepare yourself for some bold and arresting imagery as you begin to dissect Joachim Trier’s ‘Thelma’. Expectations were high going into this, after the director brought us the fantastic ‘Louder Than Bombs’ back in 2015. Both films have a circular narrative that seems to fold in on itself. Here, Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a first year student with strict Christian parents. After suffering a sudden seizure, she meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins) and is then tempted by alcohol and late nights. She is desperate to hide all of this from her overprotective parents.

Just as Thelma begins to realise that her interest in Anja may be one that is more than just friendship, the narrative takes a nosedive and goes somewhere incredibly dark and unnerving. The extreme use of strobe lighting underpins the significant life changes experienced by Thelma – the rebound after her conservative upbringing and the love and desire brought about during her adolescence, for instance.

The cinematography is impressive. Trier has paired with long-term collaborator Jakob Ihre once again. As the main bulk of the film is presented there is a crane shot showing the exterior of an academic building with students walking between lectures, going about their business. Later this is returned to, with the addition of a birds-eye tracking shot. All of this suggests power and a god-like view of the film and its characters.

The uni freshers territory is well presented and remains interesting. In a more traditional film, this would be overplayed. Thelma explores her sexuality and lives in the new hedonistic environment, and it is all fairly believable. Though they take different forms and directions, the dark and mystic tone of ‘Thelma’ is not otherwise too dissimilar to Julia Ducournau’s ‘Raw’.

There’s a deftness in the parallel editing at times, where we are brought into a flashback for a few scenes. The brevity of it feeds directly into the characterisation of Thelma and relates not just to the narrative in the present tense but to her troubled state of mind. Later, the jump cuts between location allow us to realise her plight as the weighty realisations sink in.

Harboe rises to the challenge of what surely must’ve been a demanding role in Thelma. Elsewhere, Wilkins’ performance as Anja is superb in its subtlety. Then there’s Thelma’s parents, Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) and Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), again portrayed with nuance. The entire cast adapt well to the abstract narrative thread.

There’s a clear sense of circular narrative driving the film and a few astonishing sequences in the closing section. I suspect that the use of strobe may be dismissed by some as overly stylish, though for me they were approached intelligently and with reference to tone and narrative development. It is difficult to say any more without spoiling it, but rest assured this is a must-see.

Zach Roddis |

Mystery, Romance | Germany, 2017 | 15 | 3rd November 2017 (UK) | Thunderbird Releasing | Dir. Joachim Trier | Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen

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