THE FILM: Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a thirty-four year old recovering drug addict in rehab, is granted leave during an afternoon from his rehab facility to attend a job interview. While out he decides to see what remains of the relationships he had ruined during his time as an addict, including reuniting with friends who have moved on from the party scene he was once part of. He also tries repeatedly to call Iselin, a former girlfriend who now lives in New York, although it’s clear that Anders has difficultly accepting that they haven’t really been dating for some time.
Oslo, August 31st is a movie that is so dialogue-driven I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was originally a play (and though it wasn’t, it was loosely based on the 1931 French novel about alcoholism, Le feu follet). The movie is also almost completely devoid of music for its first hour., which often adds to the feeling that the film is slowing to an inch-by-inch crawl. But that’s perhaps how the main character feels, since it is clear that trying to live clean is difficult for him, though it seems just living is difficult for him. There’s a telling scene when he escapes a loud cafe where he is drinking coffee and surrounded by people talking about everything from their hopes and dreams to everyday minutia. He instead escapes to a nearly empty restaurant, and later finds his way to a birthday with an old flame where he spends more time in solitude than around others. Anders simply doesn’t fit in this world anymore, and the only place he ever seems like he’s happy and himself is when he drifts back toward his old bad habits.
There are parts that are difficult to watch, especially considering that the events Anders faces show that he’s mostly right in his assessment that he has little to live for. Anders’ desire to no longer live seems born more out of the guilt he feels for what his addiction has put his loved ones through rather than any self-pity. It’s like he feels that he doesn’t deserve to live. It’s hard to look at a character like Anders and tell him that life is worth living when everyone he cares about either treats him like the damaged goods he allowed himself to become or dispenses advice to him that is hollow and useless to him.
This slow-moving drama by co-writer/director Joachim Trier (Reprise) is definitely moving, especially if one has ever known an addict, but it certainly isn’t for everybody. If one isn’t used to the dialogue-driven style of European drama, it’s hard to appreciate this film. But Lie’s performance is fascinatingly charismatic — he plays the addict so well that it’s difficult not to constantly watched his pained expressions — and anyone who enjoys foreign films should definitely take a look at Oslo, August 31st.
EXTRAS: Like a DVD from the mid 1990s, the only extras here are a trailer for the film and trailer from other releases from Strand Releasing. It’s understandable since its a foreign film and had a very limited U.S. theatrical release, but I would’ve loved to hear more from the cast and crew about this project.
Movie Rating: Though it moves at a snail’s pace, a patient viewer will find much to appreciate in this addiction drama (8.5/10).
DVD Rating: As good as the movie is, the actual disc leaves a lot to be desired (4/10).
Oslo, August 31st is now available on DVD from Strand Releasing