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Oslo, August 31
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by Jay Seaver

"Where time and place are vital but far away."
5 stars

"Oslo, October 31st" starts out with various off-screen voices describing their memories of the city in question, and even when the imagery that goes with those memories is of something like a building being brought down, it's vibrant and alive. When it's first seen in the present, through the eyes of the main character, though, it's all motionless construction equipment. It's time to rebuild after the implosion, but how to do that may take some consideration.

The man who needs to rebuild is Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), who has spent a fair amount of time in a rehabilitation facility for his drug addiction; he's been given a pass to go into the city for a job interview. That's not until later in the day, though, so in the mean time, he might as well visit some people - an old friend, his sister, maybe a few others as one name leads to another - and the family home. Of course, it's impossible to forget that this is where Anders lived as he succumbed to his demons the first time.

The very name of this movie gives it bounds; it's not going to move far from that time and that place. What's interesting, though, is that co-writer/director Joachim Trier never makes those implied limits feel close or to give them undue importance to the characters within the movie. The extent to which there is not a ticking clock is almost shocking; Trier spends most of the first third of the movie on a conversation between two characters that kicks themes around but doesn't really push Anders through the story, and the time of day or how long it is until Anders is expected back is almost irrelevant in each particular scene. If Trier is making points via where in Oslo each segment takes place, it's not immediately obvious to this non-Norwegian. And yet, as much as the story seems to be contained by its title, there's also a sense that the environment and the passage of time is affecting Anders; it's important without being overtly so.

Also impressive is just how well the story is told through conversation. It's not just words, either - for all that the first act lays Anders' attitude and relationship with drugs and the world around him out plainly, it's the way Anders Danielsen Lie and Hans Olav Brenner play it that makes things interesting: As Anders talks plainly about how disconnected and unable to relate to the world he feels without drugs, his friend Thomas seems to lose his ability to reconcile his own intellectualism with the conventional family life he's fallen into; later, a much less confrontational-seeming talk with an old girlfriend turns out differently than expected. It's an impressively subdued way of showing how Anders's self-destructive tendencies put stress on everyone around him. There are more directly confrontational sequences between that are in some ways more complicated - as much as they show Anders as a primary source of his own problems,they make him a touch more sympathetic by showing just what sort of resistance he has to confront when he does try to get his life together.

Anders is the common denominator to all those discussions, and Lie is in nearly every scene of the movie (those not featuring him might almost be imaginary, in fact). He turns in a nearly flawless performance, embracing the negative aspects of his character but not making him a monster as much as a guy who who can't or won't stop creating bad situations. Lie, Trier, and co-writer Eskil Vogt get that "sympathetic" doesn't necessarily have to mean pleasant or nice; at the moments when Anders seems most doomed, the audience will certainly feel for him but likely wouldn't want to get involved any more than the other characters in the movie. That's a dead-on take on someone like Anders, and there's never any doubt about it.

Trier does a number of other things well besides getting good talk from his cast, often in a way that seems self-effacing even as it's impossible to miss. The scene where Anders overhears dozens of snippets of conversation in a cafeteria and seems to dismiss them as pointless or naive is kind of showy (especially for the sound team) but well short of pretentious, for example. A moment when Anders may be about to backslide hard is clear in its intentions but also silent - and clever enough to make that silence a point. The structure is also a little more clever and complex than it first seems, introducing a bit of interesting ambiguity to the end.

"Oslo, August 31st" had a difficult time actually getting into theaters here in the Boston area, and it's easy to see why - the film is frequently quite bleak, but neither wallows in it nor wrings its hands enough to stir the audience's outrage. Even for a boutique film audience, a person in this sort of hole without an exterior force pushing them in or holding them down is a tough sell. Still, once one accepts the idea, it's tough to deny just how well Joachim Trier presents it while still leaving some room for home.

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originally posted: 02/09/13 16:26:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2011 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 14th Annual Sarasota Film Festival For more in the 14th Annual Sarasota Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/13/13 Louis Blyskal Ok will not see again 5 stars
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  DVD: 18-Sep-2012


  DVD: 18-Sep-2012

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