“I feel like a spectator in my own life,” says Renate Reinsve’s character Julie during one of the pivotal scenes of The Worst Person In The World, as she breaks up with her comic artist boyfriend. Julie begins the film as a 29-year-old woman struggling to find her place in the world after dropping out of medical school and breaking up with her partner (a different one). It chronicles her life over the course of four years, as she grapples with romantic commitment, ambivalence towards having children and career uncertainty.
Julie’s characterisation of herself as a “spectator” might seem like an ironic line, set within this Oscar-nominated Norwegian film about a woman whose dramatic life choices – handbrake turns, more like – very much drive the plot. Structurally, the film is split into 12 “chapters”, together with a prologue and an epilogue, with titles like “Julie’s Narcissistic Circus” and “Bad Timing”, and in the first few minutes, we learn she has walked away from successive romantic relationships and professional paths). Yet as the story progresses, viewers might just find some truth in Julie's assertion that she is spectating – rather than living – her life. Because as much as Joachim Trier’s masterpiece, described among the British public as Norway’s answer to Fleabag, might seem to be, from the outset (and the trailer), a film about an empowered woman advocating for her own happiness, it also speaks to something that is perhaps more universally relatable and human: the fear of making any permanent, life-changing decisions.
Described as the "Norwegian Fleabag", the Oscar-nominated film is a surprise breakout hit this awards season.
That’s the way Renate Reinsve, 34 – who recently won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in the film – sees it, anyway. Of Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, the screenwriter duo behind this film, she says: “They are interested in characters that are passive to their environments because there’s so much going on in their inner lives”. She approaches Julie as a complex character: strong and worthy of admiration, sure – "Julie's never trying to please the people around her. She's challenging the social structures she's in all the time” – but also deeply afraid of facing up to herself and her own autonomy: “She has a hard time being in her emotions, so she runs away”.
It's no surprise when Renate casually but graciously bats about the Fleabag comparisons made by the British media around the film. “People say I look a bit like her,” she comments, referring to the show’s creator and front woman Phoebe Waller-Bridge before moving on. Because, unlike Fleabag's occasionally morally-unscrupulous titular character, Renate’s Julie does little that's easily categorisable as good or bad; outrageous or amoral. This, despite one “chapter” of the film entitled “Cheating”. There's a lightness and vulnerability about Julie that makes her hard not to like – or at least, to forgive automatically.