Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Oslo, August 31st


There’s a scene in the fantastically bleak and insufferable Norwegian film, Oslo, August 31st in which the main character sits in a café and listens. He looks over at a couple and overhears their exchange about music. He gently glances at another woman as she reads aloud a presumed self-reflexing monologue about things she wants to do with her life. Young women socialize, kids talk over their parents, and so on. Everytime our main character, Anders, locks in on a conversation, the film’s soundtrack slowly brings that dialogue into the foreground, making it the only thing we, the audience, can hear.

Now, if you’ve ever tried this in real life, it actually works. You tell the brain to concentrate on one noise out of many, and it can. For the sake of Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st, none of the conversations Anders purposefully overhears in this scene have anything whatsoever to do with the film’s story. The stories are not a reflection of the people who are telling them, but of the man who is listening to them. But more on that later.
A young, powerless drug addict, shortly after we meet Anders (played by real life doctor Anders Danielsen Lie, in what has to be one of the best, most criminally ignored performances this year) he is attempting to kill himself in such a hopelessly unimaginative way, that we can’t help but feel sorry for him. And from then on, Oslo, August 31st is a film about a man in collapse.

The story is simple: Anders is given a day away from his drug rehabilitation clinic to go on a job interview in Oslo. While in town, he visits (or attempts to visit) old friends and relatives while fighting off the insatiable urge to succumb to the sauce and the smack. Prior to seeking treatment, Anders was a well-regarded party boy who let his carefree boozing and drug taking result in a debilitating heroin addiction. Now that he’s spent months drying out, his trip to Oslo is representative of his first real test.

So, essentially, Oslo, August 31st is a day in the life of a broken soul. The film depicts Anders’ events of the day with extended conversations that tell as much about Anders as they do about the person he’s talking too. There’s a moment, for instance, when Anders and his best friend talk in a park about the frustrations in their lives. By the end, you won’t know who to feel more sorry for, the drug addict who has nothing, or the married man who loathes his conventional existence.
I’ve recently learned that Oslo, August 31st is based on “Le Feu Follet,” Pierre Drieu La Rochelle’s novel that Louis Malle used as the basis for his expert film, The Fire Within. The films are very different, but the similarities are also fairly obvious. At any rate, Trier’s film has earned mentioned praise in the same breath as Malle’s film, which is a grand compliment.

I’m not quite sure where Oslo can go from here. According to Wikipedia, it was one of Norway’s submissions for last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film, which would make it ineligible for that category, but open for others this year (which, quite frankly, is highly unlikely). I viewed it on Netflix, and if you are a member, then I strongly encourage you do the same.

Back to that extended moment of eavesdropping. Twice during Anders’ moment of auditory intrusion, he fully locks his attention on one specific person, and briefly envisions the rest of their afternoon. Jogging on the street, shopping for groceries, eating at home alone – and so on. All of his visions end with the subject seemingly unhappy and unquestionably alone. I’ve seen a lot of movies, but I’ve never seen that kind of mirrored, cognitive projection executed as diligently as it is here. From this sequence alone, you know exactly who Anders is, and exactly how far he’s fallen. A

21 comments:

  1. I love that cognitive projection you talk about. That scene by the pool where he's looking at his friends while the sun comes up.....perfection. His acting and the cinematography really made me feel moment. Then that scene in the house at the end....again, perfection! So glad I found this film.

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    1. Perfection abounds. Really, everything worked for me here: the acting, the tone, the look. Loved the pool scene and the end scene, and, well, every scene.

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  2. I'm glad you regard this one as highly as I do. I saw it last year, but it will certainly end up on my 10 best of this year. Anders Danielsen Lie gives such a powerful, towering performance that completely allowed me to understand the pain and emptiness he felt without even speaking much.

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    1. Yeah man, I was blown away from scene one. Completely enthralled in the bleak world it created. This will be in my Top 5 of the year, no doubt in my mind.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

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  3. Great review man. Again, I love this one too. I have no hope for it this awards season, but the film definitely deserves to be seen.

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    1. Thanks dude! (sigh), I have no awards hope for it either. Damn shame. Small but brilliant.

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  4. I'm glad you appreciated this film! I reviewed this one recently, too. I love the way you described the cognitive projection.

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    1. Thanks! Oh I appreciated it so much. One of the very best I've seen this year. Off to find your review now!

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    1. Thanks for the link!

      Hmmm, you know, actually, I don't think it would. At least not the Top 10. My god, it was damn good though, wasn't it?

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  6. It'll all be okay.

    Except it won't.

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    1. Wrote about this earlier this week, not many overlaps in what we talked about, interesting.

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    2. That is really interesting. So much to talk about here, so many perfect sequences.

      No, I do not think it will be okay.

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  7. Great review! The film sounds very interesting, I'm adding it to my watchlist!

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    1. Thanks! I'm going to be bold and say you'd dig this one. Or maybe not... hmmm.

      Different but remarkable.

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  8. Glad you dug Oslo 31st, such a bleak and haunting film. Doesn't have a lot of story, but I think makes up for it with a towering atmosphere and decent soundtrack. Director Joachim Trier has his own unique voice, which Reprise (2006) is also proof of.
    Oslo 31st kind of reminds me of Shame, in that even though he finds it easy to pick up girls, he's sort of lost.

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    1. Hey man, thanks for stopping by. Couldn't agree more about the film's atmosphere and tone, shit pulled you in deeper and deeper with each passing minute. A quiet, startling achievement.

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  9. Hey man, had to drop by after watching this. Blew me away. This is an excellent review -- you have expressed the brilliance of this film far better than I could. So happy that Netflix added this to Instant Watch because otherwise I probably would have forgotten all about it.

    Amazing film.

    BTW, have you seen Trier's first film, Reprise? I noticed that's on Netflix Instant, too, and I was thinking about rolling with that next.

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    1. Wow dude, thanks so much for saying all that. It really means a lot.

      I have not watched Reprise yet, but will very soon. I'm really curious to see how it measures up to Oslo. Such a remarkable film.

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  10. Extraordinary film. Towering performance, and relentlessly bleak yet very touching. Some truly wonderful scenes and a very effective soundtrack to boot. I searched for the film here to see if you had done a review and I was glad to find that you did. Very interesting to read your thoughts on that scene in the cafe as I was also taken by it. Glad we share our high regard for this very nicely crafted piece of cinema.

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    1. Awesome man, so happy you appreciate the movie. I need to give this one a rewatch actually. It's so confidently bleak, isn't it? Really stands on its own.

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