Sunday, 25 September 2011

LFF 2011 Review : Oslo, August 31st





“If somebody wants to destroy himself, society should allow him to do so”.

This superbly confident and brilliantly directed second feature from Joachim Trier (Reprise, 2009) takes place over the course of one day, following Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) as he reaches the end of his time spent at a drug rehab clinic. Making excellent utilisation of voiceover from its opening sequence, in which home videos and archive footage are intercut to create a collage of memories of an Oslo childhood, it’s a love letter to a city tinged with sadness and regret, where “melancholy is cooler than nostalgia”, the romanticism of the Manhattan-like opening tempered by a sense of loss in the following scene, revealing a steelier aesthetic as Anders wakes up, resolving that day to die.

At first reminiscent of a kind of bleak Before Sunrise, a series of long conversations taking place in and around Oslo’s streets and apartments as Anders attempts to re-connect with old friends and family, it’s as much a film about transience and adjustment, about adapting to new roles in life, letting go of the past to make room for the future. Brimming with shame and guilt over the effect of his drug addiction on those close to him, Anders sees little future for himself in a world moving forward faster than he can keep up with, and with little faith in his own rehabilitation, the perceived necessity of having to start from scratch, with no sense of purpose or self-worth, seemingly overwhelming. His self-destructive path is first shown in an aborted job interview; clearly intelligent and articulate, he refuses to acknowledge the possibility of a second chance, storming out when confronted by his own sense of shame at his past.

“I’m trying to remember what I’m supposed to do”.

Trier’s camera stays close to Anders through his wanderings and slow disintegration, an astonishing aural soundscape reaching its peak in a phenomenal sequence in a café, as he sits observing the world around him, overhearing fragments of conversation from a world increasingly alien to him; teenage girls talking about a pop singer, mothers sitting with their babies, a woman (perhaps on a dating site) reeling off a list of life-ambitions from her laptop; all serving to isolate him further. It’s a stunningly crafted scene, one of many in a film of exceptional formal control, full of hauntingly beautiful imagery (a dawn bike ride through blasts of a fire extinguisher especially) and wistful voiceover, where even the brighter moments are suffused with an air of melancholic resignation to a self-imposed fate.

Lie’s central performance as Anders is truly remarkable, a self-confessed “spoilt brat who fucked up”, his actions are not always sympathetic, but every little knock he takes over the course of the film has a keenly felt cumulative effect. He’s aided enormously by Trier’s smart and analytical screenplay, as are the rest of the uniformly excellent cast, all adapting to life out of their twenties in different ways, the portrait of domesticity Anders finds his friend Tomas (Hans Olav Brenner) easing himself into contrasted with the idealistic optimism of the student with whom he spends the night. Small details reverberate at later points, when Tomas lovingly talks of his nights spent in with his wife playing Battlefield on their Playstation, the same game is being played by the dealer Anders visits to score, a cutesy image of married life echoed in its explicit absence.

Trier utilises silence as much as he does his soundscape to excellent effect, the camera lingering on Anders increasingly hollow gaze as he watches the world around him. If one image proved grating (a toddler kicking a half inflated globe across a playground, the world at his feet) there are more than enough to compensate for one mis-step. It’s an emotionally exhausting experience, Anders’ determinedly pessimistic outlook and inability to escape his past as saddening as it is inevitable. Trier has crafted a portrait of addiction and the pressures of modern life with outstanding technical assurance; it’s a sad tale, beautifully told.

Oslo, August 31st – 2011 – Norway – 95 mins – Dir : Joachim Trier

Oslo, August 31st plays at the London Film Festival on 19th & 20th October and goes on general release on 4th November.

Tickets for the London Film Festival screenings are available here.

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