Sitges Review: Joachim Trier's 'Thelma' is One of the Year's Best Films
by Alex Billington
October 8, 2017
The power of love. It's such a relief to watch a film and discover it's truly as wonderful as everyone has been saying. Joachim Trier's Thelma has been getting rave reviews ever since premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest (Jeremy wrote a glowing review already). I caught up with the film at the Sitges Film Festival and it's now one of my favorite films of the year, a wonderfully exhilarating, gripping sexual awakening story. Joachim Trier is a very talented Norwegian filmmaker who has already made a name for himself with the films Oslo August 31st and Louder Than Bombs, but continues to get even better with each new film he makes. Thelma is his finest work yet, one of the year's best that is worth your time to discover.
Trier's Thelma is about a young Norwegian woman named Thelma, but of course, played by Eili Harboe. Raised by a Christian family, she moves to Oslo to study at a university, and meets another young woman on campus named Anja, played by Kaya Wilkins (aka musician Okay Kaya). She starts to have sexual feelings for Anja, and this is when her "super" powers begin to manifest. Whenever she's near her and starts to have these feelings for Anja, she suddenly starts to convulse and ends up in a seizure, while causing other things to happen - birds suddenly hit the window, lights flicker, objects move. Soon she learns she has some kind of weird powers, but also discovers that she is a lesbian and just wants to be with Anja despite her upbringing telling her it's wrong. It's a coming-of-age story but also an enchanting, romantic sexual awakening story.
If Thelma had been made in Hollywood, these powers would be exaggerated and there would hyperbolic, CG-filled moments where things come crashing down. But thankfully this film never goes that far. It's much more subtle, delicate, and sensitive. It's actually a slow burn drama, taking its time, allowing us to steadily follow her and her self-discoveries, but never pushing too far where it could become stressful. This pacing is so meticulous yet it doesn't feel forced, and it's a relief to follow because it never gets overwhelming. The moments where things happen, or where the story heats up, are just enough to give viewers a taste of her feelings deep down, before continuing on to the next scene. I really appreciate this balance and restraint, because I kept expecting it to go big and crazy, but it never does making it even more endearing by the end.
From the cinematography by Jakob Ihre, to the score by Ola Fløttum, to the costume design by Ellen Dæhli Ystehede, the rest of this film is pretty much perfect. Eili Harboe as Thelma is not only beautiful to watch, but enrapturing in each in every scene. She has the kind of presence where you can almost see what she is thinking, and understand what is going on in her mind, without her even needing to say a word. It's all in her eyes, and her body language, and her facial tics, the nuances of a deeply complex human being. It's so easy to say this film is one of the best of the year, because it will speak right to you, connect to your subconscious romantic emotions and desires, and remind you of the remarkable power that love has on us.
Alex's Sitges 2017 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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