[Review] – Oslo, August 31st

11 Jun

Title: Oslo, August 31st
Year: 2012
Director: Joachim Trier
Writers: Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, based on the novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 95 min
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Metacritic: 83

I’ve heard lots of really good things about Joachim Trier‘s feature debut, the 2006 film Reprise, however that’s a film that I must admit has eluded me so far, even though I have heard some great things about it. But still, Mr. Trier’s name is still one that was on my mind, so when I got a chance to watch his latest, Oslo, August 31st, which screened at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, I definitely jumped at it. Good that I did, too, since this film is truly fantastic, and even without having seen his debut I can definitely tell you that this is a director who really knows what he’s doing only two films into his career. Now more than ever I can’t wait to catch up on Reprise.

The film centers around Anders Danielsen Lies‘ Anders, a recovering drug addict at a rehabilitation center in Oslo who’s allowed one day off to go into the city for a job interview. The day, however, is spent by Anders drifting around the Norwegian capital, revisiting new friends and in the process confronting his own personal demons as he tries to leave the past behind and start. And it really is a terrific film, with a direction that I was left seriously impressed with, just so confident in what it was doing, and how it portrayed this man’s life and, as its title would suggest, keeping that story very much grounded in a place that we can feel.

The film, co-written by Mr. Trier alongside Eskil Vogt, also has a pretty damn brilliant screenplay. It’s just a brutally honest look at how figuring out your life again after being in rehabilitation must be. I mean that not just because of the obvious temptation of throwing your new-found sobriety out the window and go for drugs, which is something that Anders admits to pretty much right away, but mostly because of how hard it must be to try and find yourself in some kind of normal state again. That’s what really fuels this narrative, that kind of existential crisis in which Anders doesn’t know if he’ll be able to find a life worth going back to, and thus starts questioning whatever purpose the rehabilitation process has in the first place.

It’s just an incredibly haunting film, the kind of movie that really does have an impact on you, and that will give you something to think about for days after you’ve watched it. That’s what I loved the most about Oslo, August 31st, that kind of overpowering emotional effect it so easily has. And I say it easily achieves that effect on you not because what Mr. Trier has done here is easy, because it’s everything but, but rather because he makes seem easy; the film is not super preachy, there’s no big philosophical agenda in sight, we just follow this guy, a likable guy who’s super talented but who chose a wrong path in his life, and we watch him trying to find his way back, not really knowing if he can, and that way Mr. Trier portrays that here is just gorgeous. Not to mention that the film, visually, is pretty beautiful, too.

The conversation he has with Thomas, whom he visits first, is amazing to watch unravel. Here’s his old friend, the guy he partied so hard with once upon a time, and he found a way back, he’s leading a very normal life now, married and with kids, and he tells Anders that it’s possible for him to do the same, even though he kind of still envies Anders as they look back on their wilder days, saying that he’s rather unhappy now. You get the sense that Anders doesn’t really buy into that notion of moving on, and from then the movie just keeps going, and we go along with it. We go along with it because even if most of us have had no history of addiction, nor do we live in Oslo most likely, we can connect with Anders in so many levels, because we’ve all had that moment in which life seems like a bit too much to take, and we’ve all had to adapt to change.

So we get Anders here, we get that he’s not entirely sure about what his next step will be, and we get how when he takes one of those next steps he’s probably not all that sure about why he took them. It’s these things that make Anders not that easy to decipher for us, even as we spend the whole movie with him, we’re not sure how to read him, probably because he’s not either. And that works like crazy, it works because of the performance given by Mr. Lie which is so beautifully and magnetically melancholic, and because of the direction of Mr. Trier (who’s a cousin of Lars von Trier) which is so pitch-perfect in how it analyses Anders, with compassion but not even the hint of schmaltz; this is realistic to the bone, no matter how dark the path Anders may be on is.

Oslo, August 31st is a movie about a recovering addict, and the film itself kind of behaves like a drug, sort of. I mean, you take it and slowly but surely it starts sucking you in, and you get really involved, and once it’s done you’ll find yourself thinking about it a fair bit. It’s one of those films in which not much is really said, and yet every quiet moment is charged with so many complex things that are being said. I really, really loved this film, and it’s certainly one of the year’s very best so far, directed by a young man that surely has an amazing future in front of him, and who has crafted a movie that may seem deceptively simple but that’s really anything but.

Grade: A-

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2 Responses to “[Review] – Oslo, August 31st”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies June 12, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    I was unaware of this one before now but it seems very interesting. I’m putting it on my to-watch list now!

    • ArtfullyBedraggled June 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      Highly recommend it! Joachim Trier is a talent to really look out for.

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