NR, 95 min.
Director: Joachim Treir
Writers: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt, Pierre Drieu la Rochelle (novel “Le feu follet”)
Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Emil Lund, Malin Crépin, Øystein Røger
Today’s offerings are a little harder to find the good in, but it’s there. “Oslo, August 31st” starts almost like a documentary praising the Norwegian city. Voiceover provide memories of Oslo by is citizenry, and then the story begins with a man filling his jacket pockets up with stones, picking up a huge rock in his arms and walking into a river.
This man is the story’s protagonist, Anders. He is not a happy man. His sinking trick doesn’t work. He may still have a modicum of hope left in him. He’s a recovering drug addict finishing his last two weeks of rehab. He receives a day pass to attend a job interview and takes the opportunity to visit some old acquaintances.
He visits a best friend who is positive and supportive. That is not what Anders wants. His sister, who sends her girlfriend instead, stands him up. She couldn’t stand to get stood up herself by Anders yet again. He goes to a party where he sees an old flame. She’s losing faith herself after trying for years with her husband to get pregnant. None of these people provide what Anders is looking for. He’s a good person, trying to do right by these people and himself, but he knows the truth of his situation. He will never be free again. Drugs will never let go their hold on him.
In the end, what Anders wants is exactly what he wanted in the beginning, a release, a way out from his daily torture. What drug treatment has taught him is that drugs won’t supply what he wants either. His is a sad story.
When I first saw the film last fall, going on Ebert’s four-star review, I wanted something different than what it gave me. I wanted hope, and through the course of a day Anders loses what little he had left. I couldn’t find fault with the film, but I only awarded it three and a half stars. The truth is, I can’t deny it four stars. It is excellently made, and I fear a sadly accurate reflection of those who suffer through addiction. But, such a depiction is not a totally negative thing. The beginning of the film, where the residents of Oslo show their praise of the city is the most interesting thing about the movie. It juxtaposes Anders life with happier ones. It’d be tempting to say “more appreciative outlooks,” but it isn’t that Anders doesn’t appreciate what others have done for him, or what life has afforded him. He comes from a good family. He had a good life, but his addictions won’t let go. Is his act in the end so selfish? Or is it his last good deed to himself and those around him?
I am by no means condoning suicide, nor do I think this film is either. What it does is open a window into the mindset of someone who sees it as his only option. It is enlightening, the greatest compliment you can give to a work of art.