Oslo August 31st

I first came across Oslo, August 31st while reading the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times about 2 weeks ago. The article was called “Indie Focus: A different take on addiction in ‘Oslo, August 31st ‘”. While reading the article, what intrigued me about this film were the honest character development and the essence of specific time and place that went into the project. This ultimately allowed Director Joachim Trier to stray away from the stereotypical junkie story.
Oslo, August 31st follows a man, Anders (Ander Danielson Lie) who had a soul full of possibilities that was emptied by drug addiction. And he feels the heavy weight of doubt and loneliness as he returns home–his haunting past. The hollowness he feels cannot rekindle the connections he once had and the hope of drug recovery. “All I feel is numbness,” Anders shares to his friend, Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner). During a group therapy session, a woman expresses how the torment of leaving rehab is like being back in primary school emotionally. We follow Anders around the city for a day, as he embodies this haunting idea.
Anders is granted a day pass from his rehab center to attend a job interview. Along the way, he meets old friends and family members. Anders is 10 months clean. There is really no explanation for Anders’ drug abuse. He comes from a nice upper middle class family with loving parents. He’s smart and articulate that would have led to a great future in writing.
Trier explained to L.A Times that, “We wanted to break the stereotypical addict character and try to take you somewhere else.” Indeed, he did with the help of Lie, who spoke to doctors and addicts undergoing various stages of recovery in preparation for his role. Lie, 33, who is on his way in becoming a fully licensed physician himself, worked in clinics, which allowed him to become more knowledgeable about addicts. And as a result, he was able to create a specific and unique character.
Lie’s performance is impeccable. Even when he’s walking alone around town, there is so much weight that we can see and feel reverberating from him. He consumes the mind and body of Anders and expresses it through subtle eye and body movements.
Moreover, Trier utilizes silence as a character in the film. When we watch films, we rely on dialogue to understand. Dialogue pushes time and plot. It is continuous and never ending. It spoon feeds us. But when we see a film with minimal dialogue, it becomes foreign and it makes us feel uncomfortable. Yet, there is a striking familiarity because after all, there is silence in our lives. We aren’t chatting away 24/7. Silence captures the raw essence of man and life. It co-exists with us. I respect filmmakers who take the risk in doing so. After all, silent films aren’t very popular with the general mass. Silence in films challenges us to delve deeper and interpret meaning for ourselves. It’s an art form and I absolutely admire it.
I love the way Trier emphasizes the power of specificity. Not only does he focus on a specific time and place, but moment. Perhaps the most moving scene in the film is when Anders is sitting in a coffee shop. As he watches and consumes everything going on around him, he eavesdrops and people watches. It’s done so naturally with simple camera movements and shots, yet it is haunting at the same time. The juxtaposition between the everyone’s progressing lives and Ander’s halted life is painful to watch. This scene reminded me of Agnes Varda’s French film, Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) when Cleo is strolling through the coffee shop gazing upon others and listening to them talk. They are both such rare, raw, and emotional scenes that hold a special place in my heart.
The ending of the film is striking. There is a reverse montage of each place that Anders had visited throughout the film. It demonstrates how challenging, enduring, and painful one day was for him outside of rehab. It goes back to the whole concept of being emotionally in primary school. The feeling of being behind, the weariness of starting over, and being back in the haunting presence of individuals and places that could easily pull you back to where you were before.
This is Trier’s second feature film. His first was Reprise (2006) that Lies directed. Trier and Lie’s director-actor collaboration is strong and they have been compared to Francois Truffaut with Jean-Pierre Leaud. They hope to continue their collaboration on more projects but that might be tricky, as Lie will be a practicing physician.
 Lie is also a musician and has released an album titled, “The Austism.” How this man juggles these diverse occupations, I have no idea. But what a talent he is and what a pleasure it was watching his performance.
After watching the film, I took a long stroll to my car. I felt an extreme sense of heaviness within me. No film has ever made me feel this way. No film has ever made me hurt so much.
“Everything will be alright…except it won’t.” These words of Anders are the epicenter of the story. He does not believe in new beginnings. The film is painful to watch but reveals the reality of getting back on your feet while everything else around  you swiftly moves forward.
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