Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DVD Review: Oslo August 31

Oslo, August 31
Directed by: Joachim Trier.
Written by: Joachim Trier & Eskil Vogt based on the novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.
Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie (Anders), Hans Olav Brenner (Thomas), Ingrid Olava (Rebecca), Anders Borchgrevink (Øystein), Andreas Braaten (Karsten), Malin Crépin (Malin), Petter Width Kristiansen (Petter), Emil Lund (Calle), Tone Beate Mostraum (Tove), Renate Reinsve (Renate), Øystein Røger (David), Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal (Mirjam).

Oslo August 31 is about Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), who is a drug addict. He’s been living clean in a rehab facility for months now, and his time is just about up. They are even letting him go out for the day – to go to a job interview, so perhaps when he gets out of for good, he’ll have something to look forward to – something to keep his mind off the drugs. But he knows it’s hopeless. From the beginning of Oslo August 31, I knew how the movie was going to end – and so does Anders. He may not have seen how he screwed everything up with the drugs while he was still using, but now that he’s clean, he knows there is no going back.

Oslo August 31 is essentially made up of a series of conversations between Anders and others. When he first arrives in Oslo from the rehab facility, he has some time to kill before his interview, and drops in on his old friend Thomas. Thomas is married now, and has a couple of kids, but he is nice to Anders – but really has no idea what to say. He gives him sympathetic look, and meaningless platitudes of support, but they don’t really help Anders, essentially because Thomas has no idea what to say, do or how to behave when his old friend the drug addict shows up at his door unannounced. Do any of us? We then move onto the interview, which, predictably, doesn’t go too well. Anders is obviously smart and well educated, and he’s applying for a job at a shitty magazine, and he isn’t quite able to stop himself for insulting the magazine. And then when the interviewer asks him why there is nothing on his resume after 2005 things get even worse. I’m sure the rehab place prepared him for this question, but however they told him to answer it, it certainly isn’t the way Anders does.

The day goes on like this – a series of encounters Anders has with people from his past. He’s supposed to meet his sister for coffee, and then go onto their childhood home, which their parents are in the midst of selling, in part to help pay to get Anders out of trouble. But his sister is wary – and doesn’t show up, and instead sends her girlfriend to meet Anders, which angers him. And finally, it’s onto a party, where Anders knows he should not go, but he cannot help himself. Throughout the day, he calls his ex-girlfriend repeatedly. She stuck by him for years, but has now moved on with her life – and moved to New York. She never answers the phone, but Anders keeps leaving messages.

The best thing about Oslo August 31 is the lead performance by Anders Danielsen Lie. He looks like you would expect a recovering drug addict to look, but his performance is more than that. He doesn’t rely on the usual nervous ticks or increasingly anxious voice that many actors do when portraying an addict – someone either craving a hit, or trying really hard not to. He remains fairly calm. I don’t think he’s really falling apart, the way we normally see in these movies. That is because from the beginning of the film, his mind is made up. You could delude himself when he was an addict – or more accurately, when he was an addict, he didn’t have to think about the consequences of his actions. But now that he’s clean, he cannot live with what he has done.

It is true that many people are able to get and stay clean after being addicts. I bet you many of those have some sort of support system in place though – and Anders doesn’t. He was a spoiled rich kid, and while his parents gave him everything material he could want, they never gave him what he really needs. His friends don’t know how to behave around him – they are all either like Thomas, all awkward and well-meaning, or else they pretend nothing at all happened, and that Anders is the same old screw-up he’s always been. His sister is nervous about his coming out of rehab – and his girlfriend is gone, never going to return.

But Anders cannot, and does not, blame anyone else for what has happened to him. He knows the fault lie directly with himself.  And he sees only one way out. Oslo August 31 is a deeply sympathetic film about Anders. Directed by Joachim Trier, the film has a simple visual look – it basically looks directly at Anders throughout the movie. I was reminded of the films of the Dardenne Brothers who often position their camera to be looking directly at the characters face – or the back of their head – as if by looking long enough, they’ll finally be able to break through into their mind. In this case, what you would find is a sad, lonely man, who sees only one solution.

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