Friday, August 31, 2012


Oslo, August 31st might be the most depressing film I've seen all year; an honor that last year went to Steve McQueen's unnerving meditation on addiction, Shame.  Plainly put, this Norwegian import isn't about to alter anyone's opinion that there's a strong proclivity within Scandinavian cinema to delve into dark territories; redemption isn't what this film is about, folks.  It'd be a crime if its downcast subject matter ended up denying it an audience, though.  While there's no doubt that this is an exceptionally bleak work, the film does far more in its 95 minutes than just gaze into the abyss.  Oslo, August 31st is a work of great filmmaking, offering an emotional experience that lingers far after the curtain closes on the tale it tells.

The film follows Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a recovering drug addict who is given a day pass from his rehab program.  Before he leaves the institution, he makes an unsuccessful attempt to drown himself by walking into a lake while clutching a heavy stone.  Shortly after, he visits his old friend Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner) whose now domesticated existence runs counter to the days when the two men used to rage together.  Anders soon confronts Thomas with the plan he's been harboring: he's going to deliberately shoot a lethal dose of heroin.

Everything that follows that revelation becomes sharply divided into arguments for and against the decision.  Anders believes that it's too late to begin anew, despite only being in his early 30s; something that's reinforced by a botched job interview where his past seems to limit his future prospects.  Rebutting that perspective are the multiple meetings he has over the course of the day with friends and old lovers, as well as a brief, beautiful encounter that hints at the possibilities available to him, if only he can muster the will to seize them.

Director Joachim Trier understands the necessity for the debate to unfold organically, allowing very little hope that Anders will be turned from his stated objective.  We watch as he floats through Oslo like a disembodied soul, barely present as he listens in to conversations in crowded rooms, offering nearly the same presence when overhearing the interactions of others as he does in those exchanges in which he is actively engaged.  It's frustratingly sad to watch.  With all the reasons why Anders should choose life plainly on display, it's still impossible to shake the fear that he'll act on his grievous intentions.

With Oslo, August 31st, Trier gives us an incredibly powerful look at a dispossessed individual at the end of his rope.  He's crafted a humanely rendered depiction that motivates, instead of manipulating, the audience to care deeply for what happens to its protagonist.  It's moving, sorrowful trip through a city by a man who has given up on his life.  And as difficult as it is to watch as the film dives deeper into hopelessness, it would be far harder to look away from a film as perfectly conceived as this one.

Highly recommended.

Oslo, August 31st begins its run at Living Room Theaters on Friday, August 31st.  More info available here.

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