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Film Review: Thelma @ Leeds International Film Festival 2017


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Acclaimed Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier's presents his fourth feature of the past decade with the same steadfast abundance of strategic zeal as that of a chess grandmaster.

After his awe-inspiring debut Reprise, and its intensely bleak follow-up Oslo, August 31st, most would have said it was fair enough to hand the tempestuous Norwegian something of a free-pass with his underwhelming English-language effort Louder Than Bombs. However, with Thelma - his fresh ethereal fable of fervour and fortitude - Trier is well and truly back at his powerfully poetic best. As is made crystal clear from the very first scene.

A moment so intensely visceral in its composition, that you can practically feel the needling chill of the arctic breeze cowering between the barren trees as we gaze down at two figures, silhouetted against the crunching ice of the lake upon which they walk. A little girl and her rifle-baring father appear to be tracking a deer, however, once they locate the beast, things take a slightly sinister turn as we're afforded a tantalising glimpse of what awaits further down the line.

The little girl in question is, of course, the eponymous Thelma, who is suddenly all grown up the next time we see her. Having recently moved to Oslo to study, it fast becomes apparent that she's not having the easiest time adjusting to college life - something I'm sure we've all been through to some degree. Until she meets Anja, that is. 

The pair couldn't be any more impeccably juxtaposed. Anja is bright, bubbly, and very outgoing, while Thelma - due to her virtually isolated, deeply conservative upbringing - is cautiously reserved, thus resulting in her practically fool-proof social invisibility. But that doesn't last for long. Mere seconds after the two classmates are acquainted for the first time comes the first of the latter's as yet unexplainable fits. This event spawns something of a connection between them which, as it begins to blossom, reveals to Thelma that she possesses an ethereal telekinetic ability, which she has no idea how to control.      

As Thelma curiously begins to unravel the mystery surrounding the otherworldly powers she seems to gain in tandem with these seizures, Trier's vision aptly follows suit, timely revealing its true colours. Though it may, on the rarest of occasions, venture slightly too far into the domain of the esoteric, the film's profound overriding purpose efficiently serves to suppress any such eventualities in retrospect.

Visually, the film is note-perfect. Each and every frame boasting its own eclectic brand of polished iridescence, so seemingly subtle in their unique depictions of reality. However, seeing as this thankfully isn't a film of the same mould as one of Terrence Malick's most recent efforts, the quality of such discernible splendour makes for very little if it is not reciprocated by the people who live their lives within these boundaries. 

None more so than that of emerging talent Eili Harboe, whose starring performance is quite simply breath-taking. Her enchantingly sincere portrayal of Thelma's ever-familiar formative vulnerabilities evokes a certain authentic sense of naivety and apprehension, which serves to propel the film's sleek - occasionally garish - cinematography and hauntingly reticent narrative far beyond the realms of natural possibility.

Overall, Trier's daring supernatural thriller proves to be a mystically enlightened exposition of sheer vicarious emotion. Having said that, I'd be lying if I said it was a film for everyone. It isn't. However that, in no way, should stop it from staking a justifiable claim to stand alongside such timeless cult classics as Donnie Darko and Carrie, as one of the most magically ingenious coming-of-age tales of its generation. As a matter of fact, it should strengthen it.

Thelma screened as part of the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. Further details can be found here.

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