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Thelma Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Thelma plays with the well-known formula of female naivety, delivering a suave story that takes its time at setting up and explosive revelation!

Genre: Drama / Fantasy / Thriller

Director: Joachim Trier

Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Grethe Eltervåg, Steinar Klouman Hallert & Anders Mossling.

Run Time: 116 min.

Norway Release: 15 September 2017

UK Release: 03 November 2017

German Release: 22 March 2018

Following the brilliant Louder Than Bombs, director Joachim Trier returns to his home country of Norway, to direct one of the best European films I have seen. Thelma is a unique motion-picture that reminded me at times a little bit of Robert Eggers’ The Witch. Trier successfully creates a threatening atmosphere during the opening scene, which lingers like a dark cloud throughout the whole feature, ready to burst at any moment. I was riveted from the very first minute and can’t comprehend how Thelma was not nominated by the Academy for the Best Foreign Film category.

This is a coming age movie, centred on a young woman (Harboe), who leaves her devoted religious family to study in the city of Oslo. Here she experiences freedom for the first time, as well as learning about her sexual orientation, which clashes with her Christian beliefs and thus causes some unease at accepting who she is. This topic reaches more profound depths, as she learns that her feelings of discomfort trigger some supernatural abilities that are slumbering within her.

Trier and Eskil Vogt managed to write a script that, while being very familiar, is very original in its way of approach. The exploration of self-discovery is the point of focus of this narration and handled with the utmost respect, showing the turmoil that young adults experience once they try figuring out who they are and where they fit in society. Surrounding that core subject are interesting elements of drama and thriller, as the protagonist is put in a constant state of peril; be it due to her strong Christian faith that is shaken by her new-found lesbian feelings for a girl, or her own family that tries to keep control over her from the distance. All of these raw emotions are finally engulfed by a great paranormal side-plot.

This story doesn’t spoon-feed the audience with heavy dialogue segments, instead, it requires the full attention of the audience, not only because it plays in a foreign language but also because it contains very little conversations. Trier relies fully on visual storytelling and explanation, an approach that I welcomed very much. I have one issue, though, with this movie and that is the pacing. This is a slow-burner and while I appreciate the time it takes to set up the transformation of the main character, some of the plot points could have been sped-up.

Eili Harboe portrays the leading role of Thelma, a young woman that left her parents home to study biology at the University of Oslo. She doesn’t know a lot about herself but begins to learn about her emotional compass, as well as undergoing bodily changes, once she meets chemistry student Anja. Harboe gives a magical rendition of her character; selling the conflict she is experiencing through facial expressions as well as using her eyes. Kaya Wilkins plays Anja and has fantastic chemistry with the lead actress. Anja is a complete contrary to Thelma; sociable and likes to experiment. She finds interest in Thelma after having met her in the library.

Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen play Thelma’s parents, Trond and Unni. Both are very religious and try to keep an eye on Thelma from the distance. The dynamic of the family is one of the intriguing parts of the story, as the parents emit loving and caring feelings, yet issue threatening vibes as well. Their presence is always lingering around Thelma, even when they are not physically on screen.

As stated before, this is a film that relies heavily on visuals to tell the story and it excels at doing so thanks to the tremendous cinematography. Trier makes use of lingering close-ups to enhance the feeling of loneliness, isolation, or panic that contrast with the beautiful two-shots when emotions of love and affection are being presented. It also makes use of the same aerial shot at the beginning and the end, showing where Thelma is standing at the start of her journey and the development she made when the film finishes. The colour spectrum used for this picture gives it a sterile look that enhances the feeling of discomfort and threat.

The music, composed by Ola Fløttum, is also a vital component of this feature. It starts off very sombre and quiet, yet gets louder and more violent the further the narrative progresses.

Thelma Movie Poster

Verdict: Joachim Trier’s mystery-drama is a shining star of European cinema! I am utterly disappointed by the fact that this movie didn’t get a proper release in Germany, only playing in selective theatres. The plot turns the “coming of age” tale, which is so often encountered in teen-flicks, on its head and approaches it from a very unusual side. The raw emotions displayed are very intimate and is the source that drives the narrative, while the supernatural aspect is used as a metaphor for repressed feelings and longings. Eili Harboe gives a grand performance and carries the picture mostly by herself. She doesn’t talk much, rather using her eyes and face to express her feelings of turmoil, which she is experiencing. The cinematography is magnificent and is used as the main medium to tell the story since Trier makes minimal use of dialogue. Thelma is a great fantasy-drama and deserves a 9.5 out of 10.

If you haven’t watched this movie yet, I implore you to go see it either in cinemas or on any rental platform. Believe me, this is a movie that is worth your time! Thank you very much for reading my review for Thelma!

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