Oslo, August 31st (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byIsabel Stevens04/11/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 96 minutes

Much more than your typical film about addiction and recovery, with Oslo, August 31st Joachim Trier has created an existential character study, focusing on a thirty-something ex drug addict who is totally divorced from life around him.

What's it all about
We are first introduced to thirty-something Anders as he is stuffing stones in his pockets and walking into a lake carrying a boulder. After this unsuccessful suicide attempt, it gradually becomes evident that he is in his last days of rehab – and has been granted 24 hours leave to return to Oslo, the city he grew up in and where he spent much of his time as an addict. The camera follows him as he goes for a job interview, meets again with old friends and tries to see his family.

The Good
Trier’s portrait of a recovering drug addict is far from your average tale of needles, pity and woe. As much a portrait of Norway's capital, the film intimately tracks Anders as he roams the streets of Oslo, trying to reconnect with his past while wondering what, if anything, the future holds for him. He is no one-dimensional remorseful or particularly likeable victim, but a prickly, wounded and rather self-destructive soul who candidly describes himself as “spoilt brat who fucked up.” Trier who also co-wrote the script, has an ear for the awkward, tender and painful moments that these encounters with people he has formerly hurt or abandoned yield. Much is left off-screen – like the ex-girlfriend Anders is trying desperately to speak to, but who won't return his many answerphone messages and his family who seem to be deliberately keeping their distance.

The Great
This is undoubtedly a bleak film, but it never verges into grim – it's more of a melancholic Before Sunrise-esque city tour. There some rather beautiful moments: one giddy nighttime bike ride scene is particularly spectacular. Rather than choosing an obvious, dark winter setting, Trier plants his day in the life tale at the end of summer, allowing for some softly-lit views of parks and empty streets.

Anders Danielsen Lie's performance in the lead role is noteworthy for its naturalism: it's no mean feat to be able to hold the viewer’s attention whilst simply walking around and indulging in the occasional conversation. In addition, Trier uses sound to especially good effect: at one point, Anders, sat in a cafe, eavesdrops on the lives around him, taking in stranger's hopes and frustrations. Ultimately the film works so well, not just because it is about the trials of addiction but because it is a wider portrait of lonely lives.

Worth Seeing?
Oslo, August 31st is an unusual and immersive portrait of a recovering addict, and one which favours observation and intimacy over tears and dramatics.

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Content updated: 25/03/2019 15:35

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