Saturday, March 24, 2012

ND/NF 2012: Oslo, August 31st

There are NF/ND 2012 Preview write ups I did with the esteemed Peter Gutierrez over at twitch. Click here to view.

Oslo, August 31st (2011) - Trier
It's not fair to compare Oslo, August 31st to Joachim Trier's smashing debut Reprise, but with the same lead Anders Danielsen Lie, playing pretty much the same character (an older, substance abuser in rehab rather than a mental hospital patient) and just as talky script (by Trier and his writing partner Eskil Vogt), I can't help doing so. Reprise was already walking the fine line between being an overly precious 1st world privileged twenty something male problem movie and being an emotionally truthful drama showing the limitless possibility of life. Glad the latter was the case (but almost undone by its flashy style). Oslo is a melancholic downer from the get-go.

In many ways Oslo is an improvement. Trier restrains himself in style and concentrates all his energy on creating a character study. Lie is fantastic as a 34 year old man who made some bad choices and ended up wasting the best years of his youth in a rehab. Anchored by 15 minute conversation between Anders (Lie) and his old friend in the beginning of the film, Oslo is as truthful and direct as it gets. Anders doesn't want to hear the usual lecture from his best friend and he doesn't want pity either. He made mistakes and it's done irreparable damage to his social life, job prospects, his whole future. Realizing it is his darkest hour, he wants his former friend from the wild days who now has a wife and kids, home and living mundane life, to understand that he is in dire situation.

The film starts with a compiled video clips of Oslo and its inhabitants in various seasons (including the demolition of a landmark building shot from just outside of its interior) and earnest voice-overs of people reminiscing about their experience in the city. There is something to be said about the nostalgic value at the end of Summer- the setting sun, green grass, an empty pool, all reflecting Anders' loneliness as he treks his day-trip out to his once stomping ground from the rehab. It's the first/last day of his life. He observes other people leading their lives with their ordinary concerns and wishes. As the new dawn breaks, with a little bit of fun with old and new friends, Anders manages a smile. Trier and Vogt are gifted writers, never making life's problems black and white and making sophistication easy and likable.

But I couldn't get over Oslo's specificity of its subject and its foregone conclusion. Reprise had its mature universality that appealed to both a cynic and optimist in me. Oslo, is decidedly a downer. It's still far better than Louis Malle's impenetrable Fire Within, the film that has the same source, Le Feu Follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (I fell asleep during Malle's film years ago), thanks to Lie's affecting performance.

I understand this was an in-between project before his American debut, Louder than Bombs, but I really hope Trier doesn't get stuck with the afflicted, sullen, privileged (middle class, whatever you call it) male schtick. I want to see him and Vogt grow, tackling other territories as well.

Oslo, August 31st plays as part of ND/NF 2012 on March 28th and March 29th. For tickets and more info, please visit ND/NF website.