Norwegian director Joachim Trier is known to some as the other Trier, the one making equally inquisitively bold films as his distant relative Lars, but with much less animosity for the human race and an original flair for subtle style. His newest, the Cannes Un Certain Regard selected Oslo, August 31st, takes on the very familiar tale of a struggling ex-junkie, but instead of dealing with the psychology of addiction or the physical repercussions as so many films have previously undertaken, it pulls apart the social cracks that come in between addicts and the friends and family they lost in the haze. Departing from his established aesthetics set in motion with Reprise, here Trier sends us on a downward spiral of delicate relationship diagnoses and observational self loathing that demurs pity, showing us instead just how deep the rabbit hole can go with or without the affirmatory facade of emotional support and natural intellect.
Anders Danielsen Lie once again takes on Trier’s protagonist, this time playing Anders, a confident writer turned conflicted addict now eight months clean. Nearly finished with an addiction program, going to weekly meetings, following the numerous steps, Anders is on the cusp of reentering the real world with eyes unclouded, but what approaches terrifies him. Old flames no longer return his calls, best friends have become adults with kids and careers, and everyone in between seems to see him either with a condescending eye or as the strung out junkie he once was. Despite all his efforts to reshape his life to repair the damage done, all the inscrutable agony that drew him to drugs in the first place seem to have returned under a new guise, and there seems to be no light within the abyss. As Anders revisits the past through various unpleasant, often awkward conversations that rattle the skeletons he is desperately trying to lock in the closet, the inevitable becomes clear. He really fucked up, and there isn’t anything he can do but move on or give up.
Strikingly simple, Anders’ journey plays out mostly over the course of a single day (hence the title). We follow him around the streets of Oslo as he drops in on old friends, but each meeting seems a subconscious goodbye. Trier’s unintrusive camera coolly allows frank, emotional discussion, stringing the increasingly ominous conversations together with an effectively stylized inward contemplation that takes place in shifting fields of focus and poetic montages (carefully edited) that sporadically reminisce on the innocence of what was and what could have been. It is truly a beautiful opera of magnetic understatement.
Oslo, August 31st is one of many great films Strand Releasing has brought to the US market in the last year, but it is also unfortunately one of the many that really deserve a fleshed out Blu-ray release that are stuck on a bare bones DVD. That said, Trier’s marvelous film looks surprisingly good in SD. Facial close ups highlight just how much detail is maintained, as well as the brief, but vivid forest dwelling scenes that show depth and luminous color. Even the dialogue heavy audio track has moments of low-end bolstering power.
Evoking the mood and showing Trier’s visual style, all while highlighting Danielsen Lie’s understated performance. A classy trailer for a deserving film.
A film that seems to have been mostly overlooked last year, Oslo, August 31st proves Trier is neither a spark in the wind or a one trick pony. His latest is a work of subtly gorgeous visuals composed around brief tracking shots edited together to show a man who both aches for and wholly regrets his past. It’s one of the year’s best, and with a decent transfer to home video you now have no reason not to catch up.
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