In a new series, Variety catches up with the directors of films shortlisted for the International Feature Film Oscar to discuss their road to the awards, what they’ve learned so far, and what’s taken them off guard.
“The Worst Person in The World” competed at Cannes where it was acquired by Neon for domestic rights and earned its star Renate Reinsve a best actress award. The critically lauded romantic drama rounds out Trier’s Oslo Trilogy, which began with “Reprise” in 2006 and continued with “Oslo, August 31st” in 2011. In the film, Trier revisit Norway’s capital to chronicle four years in the life of Julie (Reinsve), a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find a career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.
What does it mean to you to be shortlisted for the best international feature Oscar?
Of course it makes us very happy! The film is being released in the U.S. on Feb. 4 so this is another great thing for the film.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your campaign thus far?
I would say the COVID surge and not being able to do as many in-person screenings as we had hoped.
Although you are shortlisted in the international feature category, the best picture category has been devoid of non-English language features. “Parasite” (2019) was the first winner in history. Do you feel international voices are siloed in media and film criticism? Are there ways to improve this process when it comes to awards season?
To be honest, Norway is a small country so I grew up watching films from all around the world. I even went to film school in the U.K. at the National Film and TV school, and have always felt that cinema was an international language. It’s great to see that the Academy Awards have taken this turn lately where films from around the world are being considered in several categories.
The Academy has favored European countries, with Italy and France winning triple the number of times than a country like Japan. How can we encourage more diversity from all countries globally?
Norway has never won an Oscar for a feature film before so of course everyone at home is rooting for us.
As your country’s representative film, is there any government grant/fund you can access for the campaign?
The Norwegian Film Institute has supported the campaign.
Members have to opt in to vote for nominees for international feature. On the Academy Streaming Room, they separate those films, and there is no charge for placing them on the platform. However, for $12,500, a film will be placed on the best picture section, adding an increased chance of viewing, which benefits financially lucrative movie studios. Not every filmmaker or country has the means to pay that fee. In addition, the Academy charges for email blasts to members with reminders to vote, and hosted Q&As. Do you find the process of getting nominated fair? If no, how would you like to see it change?
Equal opportunity is always favorable.
What inspired the character of Julie?
This film is a character piece about Julie; I did not want to make a general statement about what it means to be a woman today, that would be impossible. The fact of her being a woman eventually comes in to play by itself, through trying to portray truthful situations with humor and satire, and different things that I have experienced, seen or imagined. I don’t have so much control when I write, my co-writer Eskil Vogt and I try to find interesting ideas and we try to explore them truthfully. The great thing about art is that it doesn’t have to be an analysis or sociological study: We can try to tell something honest about one person, and out of that, there may be something bigger to think about.
Some of the questions we are asking in the film are existential and I guess could apply to all people. This film deals with how relationships mirror our existential expectations of life. In our culture, we are brought up to expect love to be the place where we fulfill ourselves, and the same with careers.
What makes Oslo such a cinematic backdrop?
First, the light is very special in Oslo and northern Scandinavia. Second, Oslo is changing a lot, it has grown tremendously as a city, and throughout my films, I try to show the history of the city. I love that sense of specificity of a place in movies. When I watch a Martin Scorsese or a Spike Lee movie, I like to see the parts of New York that they show. For a filmmaker, it’s a cinematic gift to have a place that you know intimately, that you can film and show to an audience. Oslo is exactly this to me. Making films for me is about memory, spaces and time.