“Oslo, August 31st”
A Day in the Life
“Oslo, August 31st” is a look at one day in the life of Anders, a young recovering drug addict, who takes a brief leave from his treatment center to interview for a job and catch up with old friends in Oslo. This is a hard-hitting film that begins as quiet and serene and then slaps you across the face. We begin with some beautiful shots of Oslo and then watch Anders and his rather bleak life on his first day after being released from rehab because of his heroin addiction. He searches for some kind of meaning in his life and he does not find much as his friends pursue their regular dreary lives. He does not want or desire such a life and he is always analyzing his situation. One day while in the park with his closest friend, he opens up and talks about the time when the two were separated. He walks the city as if he is a dead man walking rapt in hollow dreams and feeling the heaviness of his own existence. He is lost and he knows it.
Anders is intelligent and opinionated but his addiction has robbed him of any sense of security. He is stuck and mired in recovery but there are sparks of hope in his melancholia. He is a contradiction of himself and I could not help but wonder if he portrays the modern human condition. The performance of Anders Danielsen Lie as Anders is a thing of beauty; he is the enigmatic hero and he convinces us with his authenticity.
The film is a tragedy in the way the French New Wave films presented tragedies—minimal, stylized, realistic and dramatically potent. The opening scenes at and around the rehab clinic including an attempted suicide, did not make which direction the movie was going to be clear at first soon after that, we got several chances to get involved with the main character (Anders) on his first steps back into a normal life.
He visits an old friend and we hear the revealing dialogue that follows and we hear just the two of them alone as they talk about past, present and future. They speak like old friends and we get a sense of optimism. Next, Anders has a job interview that starts well and Anders seems interested in the job of writing for a magazine but he left his resume blank and when asked why, he answers that he was in rehab and Anders becomes quiet. The interviewer seems to accept the answer after an awkward silence and tries to restart the conversation but Anders is too defensive and ashamed about his past. He does not understand that the interview is not over, and runs away.
Back on the street, Anders decides to sit in a cafe, where he listens to the conversations around him but everything seems alien to him. His intentions to make a fresh start are smashed and we watch him slide downhill with no reason to turn his life around. What happens next is predictable. We can only watch and hope that something will happen to put him on track again.
Anders is very well educated, and in no way resembles the average drug addict that we usually see in films and we begin to understand that it is difficult to return to a normal life. Director Joachim Trier does an amazing job here and his style is acute and lyrical. He captures both the spirit of Oslo and the spirit of the main character in this melancholic though efficiently humorous drama. The story is emphasized by its very realistic urban milieu depictions and fine performances. This is a film about friendship and relationships and it deals quite openly with suicide. The music is lush and perfect for the story and the cinematography is breathtaking. It reinforces the significant atmosphere in this minimalistic, existentialistic and introspective study of character.
In an early scene, Anders sits alone in a café filled with people. He and the viewer hear parts of various conversations that cover from the suicide of Kurt Cobain to a list of positive life goals. They’re intriguing in and of themselves, mostly because what we see is a very realistic portrayal of attitudes and behaviors, from sweet and sentimental to flippant and immature. Anders expresses indifference with simple turns of the head and smirks and with these, he says a lot about himself. Just this scene alone shows the greatness of Lie’s performance and shows us an emotionally complex and totally believable actor. As he sits there, both he and the audience slowly begin to realize that, apart from having nothing, he has seen to it that he actually is nothing. The film closes with a grand montage of images of places Anders has visited throughout the film and we learn that inaction allows the world to pass us by.
- Posted in: Film