Aug. 08, 2012 - Issue #877: Corb Your Enthusiasm
The road to recovery
Oslo, August 31st traces the moment to moment of its struggling protagonist
Oslo, August 31st
Directed by Joachim Trier
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
We see Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) very much awake, seated at the edge of a bed in the gloom, the barely glimpsed woman he shared that bed with groggily in denial of the breaking dawn. We see him return to the center where he resides, and we see him walk with a certain determination toward a lake, and we see him, with a large rock cradled in his arm, walk into that lake to die. He doesn't die; he reemerges, gasping, humiliated, looking like a pale salamander. The day's just begun, and it's only August 30th.
Danish-born Norwegian director Joachim Trier's follow-up to his acclaimed debut feature Reprise, could just as easily have been titled Relapse. But the title Trier settled upon, Oslo, August 31st, is far more appropriate to its co-writer/director's MO: in keeping with the recovery maxim "one day at a time," Anders is working moment-to-moment to be in the world and to stay sober. If staying sober is even a worthwhile goal. It's a testament to the film's integrity that such things are never entirely taken for granted.
Based on Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's Le Feu follet, the same novel that inspired Louis Malle's The Fire Within, Oslo follows 34-year-old Anders as he returns to the Norwegian capital after nearly a year in rehabilitation. He has a job interview, but there's plenty of time to kill before that happens. He visits friends, some of whom are really not very sensitive about his condition—a Proust-quoting literary teacher offers him a beer as soon as he walks in the door. He leaves earnest messages on an ex-girlfriend's voice-mailbox, goes to a party, steals money from random purses and tries to make-out, very inappropriately, with a friend. He sweet-talks a sweet young woman who doesn't know his past, informs a guy in a bar that he forgives him for some transgression—the guy doesn't give a shit—piggybacks on someone's bike and watches quietly while others take a dip in a gated pool at dawn—the dawn of August 31st. Somewhere in there he buys heroin. Maybe he'll use it. Who knows? I don't think even he knows. Near the end of the film he enters an empty house and plays a little Bach. He can play Bach?
Trier's style is decidedly cool and clean (no pun intended). For much of the film the camera is hand-held, which imbues its tracking of Anders' actions with a contained nervousness. Eventually Trier shifts to using some very slow, controlled dollying, for moments when calm resolve takes over. The approach to the material is too objective to feel bleak per se. But Anders is in a constant quiet crisis and the very fact that Trier's camera stays with him so devotedly is a kind of tacit compassion. When the end-credits roll we don't feel that we've abandoned Anders or that we've given up on him. We've stepped into his shoes for a bit—or rather walked beside him, since he's far too unpredictable to identify with completely. Trier has above all made a space for our empathy. It's worth your while to enter that space for 90 minutes.
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