In ‘The Worst Person in the World’, American music tells a Norwegian story

On paper, the predominant use of sensitive music by American singer-songwriters of the 1970s and 1980s in a modern Norwegian romantic comedy may seem rather incongruous, if not downright anachronistic. But five decades after some of their greatest hits, Art Garfunkel, Todd Rundgren, Harry Nilsson and Christopher Cross are back on the big screen to help Danish/Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s acclaimed “The Worst Person in the World” soundtrack. “, which is nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film at the upcoming Oscars.

Co-written by Trier and his longtime collaborator Eskil Vogt, “Worst Person” has already won Best Foreign Language Film from the New York Film Critics Circle and earned Renate Reinsve Best Actress at Cannes. The film follows Julie de Reinsve as she navigates the turbulent transition from her twenties to her thirties, covering two long-term relationships that raise difficult existential questions about love, fidelity, mortality and the passage of time. Throughout, music is a crucial link in the tale of Julie’s often rudderless existence, as she plans a wedding, stumbles upon mushrooms, bides her time working in a bookstore, and begins creating her own art.

“I wanted that kind of bittersweet feeling – melancholy, but joyful,” says Trier. Variety when asked why those retro sounds worked so well to help tell the film’s story. “There’s something about that kind of 70s music that was sweet and forgiving. Harry Nilsson will make the saddest love song always sound joyful.

Nilsson’s “I Said Goodbye to Me” and “I Will Take You There” illuminate key moments in Julie’s relationship with new love Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) with an intensity that is both hopeful and heartbreaking. In the first 10 minutes, alongside songs by Billie Holiday, Daphni and Cobra Man, Cross’ 1980 smash “Ride Like the Wind” soundtracks as Julie leaves graduate school (first in medicine and then in psychology) to become a photographer instead.

“I establish a musical language in the film very early on that will be like a playlist,” says Trier. “Cross fits into the scene emotionally. It won’t just be about cultural references. I think that’s OK. We live in a retro culture, and there’s a freedom to that. Music supervisor Goran Obad adds, “We wanted music with the duality of being singable but also reflecting a deeper state and experience, which is what the film is about.”

Taken from his 1975 solo album “Breaway,” Garfunkel’s version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March” punctuates the film’s powerful conclusion, while 1981’s “The Healing Pt. 1” crystallizes both a generational and personal divide experienced by Julie as she spent a summer weekend at a lakeside house with her boyfriend Aksel and his family.

“In this scene, Rundgren seems to be talking almost spiritually about larger issues of breath, being, and the heart,” Trier says, “while Julie is doing something seemingly very small. She’s witnessing the reconciliation of a married couple with children and thinking about the future. What is his relationship to having children and being with Aksel? There was the big scope of this song and the very small details of being in a hut and feeling lost. Again, the contrast. Music shouldn’t be used one-on-one all the time. It’s terrible. Leave space for the audience to make the connection.

Pictures of Kasper Tuxen/Oslo

Trier’s lineage gave him rare insight into the mysterious alchemy between music and film. His grandfather Erik Løchen was an accomplished jazz musician and director and screenwriter in his own right, and his father Jacob Trier is also a jazz musician turned famous film sound designer. “As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to come on set unless I could be completely quiet and sit next to my dad,” Trier says. “I was also told to be careful putting the needle on the record, because if I messed with it, I’d scratch it. I learned that almost before I could walk.

As a teenager in the 90s, Trier cut his teeth making skateboarding videos that used the songs of Bad Brains and Herb Alpert in equal measure to “create the feeling and elevate the visual”. After studying film at prestigious schools in Denmark and England, Trier released his first film, “Reprise,” in 2006, which quickly made him a hero to a young generation of globally minded filmmakers. Unsurprisingly, Trier is also an accomplished DJ, whose sets lean towards soul, disco and electro when he spins records with his friends Erlend Mokkelbost and Torgny Amdam at their “Noble Dancer” club nights in Norway.

“Wim Wenders had a quote that America colonized our subconscious as Europeans – I accept that,” he laughs. “I grew up learning English reading Thrasher magazine in a culture where, yes, there were cool bands, but I’m glad I got to listen to music from all over the world. Thank goodness! ‘saved my life growing up with Brazilian jazz and 60s British rock. It made me feel like the world of my inner spirit was bigger than the national physical space I was in .

Hence the use of oddities like the song Rundgren, which Trier first heard on vinyl from actor Anders Danielsen Lie, who plays Aksel. “I was like, fuck, how can I use this for anything?” he recalls. It fit perfectly with the aforementioned scene when Julie, already ambivalent about settling down and having a family, remotely watches Aksel’s brother and sister-in-law reconcile after a fight the night before. .

The generation gap is further illustrated in the previous scene when Julie dances blissfully at a party to Amerie’s 2005 R&B jam “1 Thing”, only to have it turned off by Aksel’s brother in favor of the cult classic. 70s ‘Bra’ by British funk group Cymande. “He’s kind of the man-replica that Julie isn’t so sure about, but they’re having fun,” Trier says. “He interrupts his song and puts it on, and she goes, oh, that’s a good song too. They’re happy. They dance. I try to use these songs as a dialogue between generations.

The Garfunkel synchronization “was a Eureka moment”, according to Obad. “Joachim called me from the editing studio and said, there’s something I really like. It really works. Before I fall in love with this, I’ll forget about it, and please work on licensing and rights for a few days. Luckily, it worked, and nine times out of 10, it’s the song or musical moment people have been talking about since the movie.

And while the singer/songwriter’s vintage fare conjures up many evocative thematic moments in the film, syncs from Scandinavian and European artists such as Amulet, Chassol, Ola Flottum and Otto A Totland almost serve as a collective score to help ground the film. action in modern-day Oslo. “These are tracks that captured a vibe brilliantly,” says Obad, noting that cult classic Norwegian band Turbonegro’s “Back to Dungaree High” was just the right substitute in an air drum scene when a live version of ” Number of the Beast” proved far too expensive to license.

Plans are still underway for an official “The Worst Person in the World” soundtrack, and without giving details, Trier and Obad say they are also considering ways to represent the film’s music online from a ” really exciting and new way”.

Perhaps because of the way the diverse soundtrack combines with the specificity of the film’s setting to make it feel like important aspects of humanity can be chronicled, “The Worst Person in the World” transcends geography. and connects with audiences around the world. In four weeks after its release, the film’s worldwide ticket sales have well exceeded its $6 million budget and were enough to place it at No. 13 at the US box office over the weekend of March 4-6.

Trier says, “If you listen to the kind of stream-of-consciousness lyrics from ‘Waters of March,’ you get the feeling it’s about the changing seasons, time passing, the wheel of time turning. , fragments that make a living, seen from afar. But it is also a question of details. It’s a paradox that interests me. It’s a pretty silly movie, with someone farting on the toilet and people running around and falling in love. But it’s also a film about mortality and loss. Music was essential to bridge these contrasts.

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