This is a stylish mystery thriller that never falls into the trap of elevating style over substance.
Thelma focuses on a young woman moving away from home to attend university in Oslo; Trier manages to perfectly capture the isolation and crippling loneliness one can feel at this time, without tipping over into a trite or angst-ridden affair.
Thelma meets Anja, who sparks something inside her. As she tries to understand her feelings for Anja she is plagued by seizures and undergoes frightening tests, with repressed memories soon coming to surface.
Eili Harboe shines as the vulnerable and endearing Thelma. She manages to shoulder a heavy responsibility as Trier keeps the camera close to Harboe’s face throughout the film, drawing the audience into Thelma’s internal struggle as she tries to discover who she truly is and what she wants. Harboe brings heart to a young woman’s struggle in trying to gain autonomy over her own body. She is complemented by a brilliant cast, her parents are portrayed wonderfully as sinister and controlling, but wholly three-dimensional with a hesitant love for their daughter shining through.
At its heart, Thelma is a film about discovery, burgeoning adulthood and sexuality. It’s an enjoyable and engaging riff on a common theme. It also boasts some beautifully tender moments between the lead and her love interest, Anja. These moments are expertly handled, deftly portraying Thelma’s yearning, in contrast with the unidentified threat that surrounds her.
The storytelling is economic and intelligent, never spoon-feeding the audience answers. This is a film that poses many questions and allows the audience to make their own minds up. Thelma mixes genuinely unsettling and disturbing sequences with tender and sensitive romance.