When the film ended all I could do was watch the words move up the screen. I couldn't move.
Oslo, August 31st
Oslo, August 31st is magnificent. A film that succeeds on many levels. It is brilliantly made by its director Joachim Trier and brilliantly acted by his actors. I honestly don’t know if I can even find anything wrong with the film. Everything from a technical standpoint seems perfect. To be honest though, it would be very hard for me to watch the film again. I don’t know if I could, even if I wanted to. I cannot remember the last time a movie hit me on such an emotional level. A couple of times I was reduced to tears, other times I was filled with rage. Even right now as I write this, emotions from the film swell within me. When the film ended all I could do was watch the words move up the screen. I couldn’t move.
Oslo‘s premise is simple. A young man who was a former drug addict is being released for a day from the treatment center he has been living at while trying to get clean. He is heading to Oslo for a job interview and to catch up with old friends. The film takes place all within 24 hours so there is no extra fat on the film’s bones. One of the first scenes with Anders, the film’s main character, involves him walking to a lake and filling his pockets with rocks. He then grabs a very big rock that he struggles to lift. He gets it into his arms and slowly walks into to lake hoping to kill himself. He disappears for nearly 30 seconds only to resurface gasping for air.
Anders heads back to the treatment center and gets ready to depart on his trip for Oslo. When he arrives in Oslo he immediately seeks out an old friend who partied with Anders almost daily. Drugs, alcohol, girls. His name is Thomas, he quit the scene years ago and now has a wife and two young kids. They spend a couple hours catching up. I found their conversation fascinating. They talk about all kinds of things ranging from things they did back in the day to kids, being a father, lack of sex between married couples etc. The conversation slowly reveals what Anders will be figuring out on his trip. Does he have a shot at starting over and if he did is it truly worth it. The film then slowly unspools into a painful journey of a man who finds out exactly how cruel life really can be.
The journey Anders makes throughout this film is very hard to watch. In one scene he goes to a job interview and the interviewer asks him why there is such a big gap in employment and Anders is forced, painfully, to admit that he was a drug addict. The look on his face when he says this is gut-wrenching. Anders storms out of the office embarrassed and ashamed, taking his resume and tossing it into the trash. In another scene Anders runs into a man at a bar who slept with his former girlfriend while they were together. Anders forgives him and the man tells him that he ruined many lives and has no right forgive others. The man has no idea what Anders is trying to achieve on this day. He leaves the bar in despair.
Throughout he’ll visit a house party where he runs into an old flame, dance with some friends at a rave and in the best scene of the film he rides on a bike with another girl while a friend and his girl ride a bike with a fire extinguisher. They roam the empty quiet streets of Oslo spraying the extinguisher at each other. It’s presented quietly and poetically. The scene in itself is a mini masterpiece.
Let’s talk about Anders for a second. Here is a performance worthy of magnificent praise. One of the hardest things to do as an actor is to craft a character that we don’t sympathize with, but one that empathize with. Let’s face it; Anders has done terrible things in his life. As a drug addict he has ruined people’s lives, including his own. Some of his friends that he wants to see want nothing to do with him. Anders is a man who we don’t feel completely sorry for, but one that we can root for as he tries to right some of his wrongs.
The actor playing Anders, Anders Danielsen Lie, is utterly devastating in the title role. A lot of what comes from Anders isn’t even said and yet all his emotions are perfectly portrayed through his body language. Even as I type this I think about Anders sitting in a diner alone as he listens to people rattle off petty things they hate about life and it makes my chest tighten. Anders doesn’t represent any actual person I know, but the performance is so real it feels like he is a friend.
Trier presents a lot of scenes with Anders with either very little sound or none at all. Some of these scenes have him walking the streets of beautiful Oslo, some have him lying in the park and others are him in a bar or a club. This quietness shows how alone he really is in this world. Anders can be around as many people as he wants but he’ll always be alone. Most cannot relate to him and others will judge him enough not to even try.
Much of the film is incredibly hard to watch. Anders is consistently reminded of the things he’s done with almost no hope for a better life. You might be asking why I would love a film that is so depressing. For me it’s not what the film ultimately says or does, but how it goes about it. Here is a film that has an uncompromising vision. Pulling no punches; Trier hides none of Ander’s emotions. On a technical level the film is incredibly well made. Oslo, August 31st might be cruel, painful and depressing at times but it’s easily the best film I’ve seen this year.