Fantastic Fest Review: Joachim Trier’s Divisive, Unforgettable Coming-Of-Age Nightmare, ‘Thelma’

09.22.17 1 month ago

The Orchard

Joachim Trier’s Thelma opens with an unforgettable sequence, a daughter trailing her father across a frozen lake, trout swimming beneath the ice shot from below. They tramp through the forest in freshly fallen snow, eventually coming upon a deer. The father slowly levels his hunting rifle, first at the deer, and then at… his daughter?

It’s the opening salvo to a dark (narratively) luminescent (visually) drama about a Norwegian girl (Eili Harboe) coming of age, coming of sexuality, and trying to come to grips with her religious upbringing during her first weeks of college. Did I mention she may have special powers? It’s, uh… probably a metaphor.

Like Julia DuCournau’s recent Raw (definitely check that one out if you have a strong stomach), Thelma employs the fantastic as a way to evoke a girl’s feelings during the death throes of her adolescence. It’s all family secrets, unfamiliar situations, and confused sexuality. Where Raw‘s Justine was a life-long vegetarian who suddenly develops a taste for meat, Thelma gets her first tastes of alcohol, pot, and the female flesh, in the form of Anja, played by Kaya Wilkins (both girls intensely competent actresses). The European habit of eschewing nudity during sex scenes and employing it only in the creepiest context remains intact. Meanwhile, Thelma starts to have seizures, and seems to experience periods of… uh… accidental telekinesis? She makes far away lights flash like strobes and birds go kamikaze on windows using nothing but the intensity of her fantasies. Zat’s telekinesis, Kjeil.

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