Film can be both arty and accessible as long as it contains the two things “Reprise” sorely lacks: entertainment value and compelling characters.

Much praise has been heaped upon Joachim Trier’s “Reprise,” but for the life of me I cannot understand why.


It’s dull, pretentious and devoid of empathetic characters. It’s also hopelessly arty, filling up on fast forwards, flashbacks, quick cuts and numerous other gimmicks meant to deepen the viewer’s feelings for a couple of twentysomething writers with the emotional maturity of Britney Spears.


My reaction? One long, sustained yawn; the same reaction I had to similarly experimental films from Trier’s distant cousin, Lars von Trier (“Dogville”). What is it that they hate so much about accessible storytelling that both feel the need to be so abstract, so off-putting?


Do they realize that film can be both arty and accessible as long as it contains the two things “Reprise” sorely lacks: entertainment value and compelling characters?


Trier and his writing partner, Eskil Vogt, are more concerned with being hip, as in hip to ripping off every coming-of-age film they’ve ever seen from “American Pie” to “Run Lola Run” and tossing it into a lid-free blender and letting the pieces fly where they may.


You do admire their audacity in believing that anyone beyond pseudo intellectuals would gain more than a cure for insomnia from their random musings about the lives, loves and literary careers of two lifelong friends from Oslo, Erik (Espen Klouman Hoiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), who just happen to be mailing manuscripts at the same time at the same post box.


It’s the first of many contrivances fueling a lame, predictable story that would be laughably cliché minus all the gimmickry. Sure, ruminations on time and fate, art versus commerce and how romance can both inspire and destroy creativity are fascinating conflicts to explore – if you’ve got something new to say.


“Reprise” strikes out on all counts, a liability made all the more glaring by its close proximity to last fall’s “Control,” a superior movie that said much of the same things with devastating clarity.


It’s a comparison Trier almost dares you to make, filling his excellent soundtrack with songs by Joy Division and New Order, groups indelibly marked by “Control’s” tragic protagonist, the late singer-songwriter Ian Curtis. Not a wise move on Trier’s part.


What is wise is his choice of actors, many of them amateurs, like Hoiner, an advertising copywriter, and Danielsen, a medical doctor. They, along with Viktoria Winge as Phillip’s muse, Kari, are terrific, and if they fail to engage empathy, it’s through no fault of their own.


Blame that on Trier and the convoluted, nonlinear structure he employs in following the divergent paths taken by the sensitive, hopelessly romantic Phillip and the resolutely determined Erik.


Their introduction to the film is fast and “Run Lola Run” sweet, as Trier presents a rapid-fire, fast-forward primer on what fate may hold for each after they drop their manuscripts down the rabbit hole, err, through the looking glass, sorry, mail slot.


Then he jolts six months ahead. Erik’s novel has been rejected, yet he plows ahead undeterred. Phillip, though, is a success; his book a sensation that we’re told was dissed by the Dahlia Lama and embraced by a sexually active 12-year-old. But the ensuing celebrity and the hot girlfriend (Winge) that fame helps him lure lead to a debilitating nervous breakdown.


How Erik and Phillip learn to deal with their pasts, confront their demons and learn to embrace futures in a cold, unforgiving world account for a majority of the film. But the only thing that truly connects is Phillip’s self-destructive pursuit of Kari, whom his shrink has ordered him to keep away from.


Their relationship feels achingly real, especially during a haunting trip to Paris, where Phillip hopes against hope to recreate the magic they experienced there months earlier when things were far less complicated.


Most intriguing is Phillip’s penchant of counting back from 10 before every major event in his life unfolds. I found myself counting down, too, in wishful anticipation of seeing two words I grew to cherish during “Reprise:” “The End.”


The Patriot Ledger