Thelma (2017)

October 28th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Joachim Trier | Writers: Eskil Vogt & Joachim Trier | Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen | Norway | Horror | 118′ | Cinematography: Jakob Ihre | Music: Ola Fløttum

More than a character study of a sheltered, sexually repressed young woman with supernatural powers, THELMA is a graceful and provocative existential horror story that couldn’t be more different than Trier’s gentle love story debut – Oslo, August 31st. As clinical in tone as Evolution (2015) THELMA has with a much more down to earth feeling despite quirky moments of fantasy, it sets Trier out as an highly inventive filmmaker at the top of his game.

Eili Harboe plays the closeted Thelma, who moves to the sophistication of Oslo from her small-town existence and protective parents, played by Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen. At university, she strikes up a friendship with Anja (Kaya Wilkins), but it soon emerges that this is no ordinary relationship and one that goes against her morals as a devout Christian not to mention her own sexual preferences. One day a bird strikes the library window sending Thelma into seizures at her desk, as she gradually becomes aware of unusual ability accompanied by disturbing nightmares. There’s an unsettling undertone to proceedings heightened by Jacob Ihre’s hyper realist visuals and Ola Fløttum’s creepy orchestral score that often plays over the teasing interactions between Thelma and Anya hinting at the unfolding doom.

Harboe skilfully hovers between coquettishness and ingenuous behaviour in her friendship with Anya but with the absence of parental backstory we’re left guessing about their or even Thelma’s motivations for most of the time – which may or may not appeal to some viewers. It does seem that her father is an unduly controlling and undemonstrative. There’s an amazing scene at the Oslo Opera House where Thelma is forced to leave her seat due to sexual arousal at Anya caressing her hand – or simply that she overcome and confused emotionally due her devout beliefs or just generally lacking of emotional support. Trier keeps his characters at arms length throughout, leaving us guessing while he concentrates on atmosphere and tone in this stylish and disturbing drama. MT



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