(Played at the Un Certain Regard Section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival) Based on the novel Will O’ the Wisp by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and the 1963 film Le feu follet (The Fire Within) by Louis Malle, Oslo, August 31st is the story of a day in the life of a recovering drug addict who leaves a treatment center for a job interview only to meet with old friends along the way. Directed by Joachim Trier and screenplay by Trier and Eskil Vogt, the film is the second part of a thematic trilogy of films set in Oslo where a man deals with his own personal issues as he is hoping to get back into the world. Starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Oystein Roger, Tone B. Mostraum, Kjaersti Odden Skjeldal, Petter Width Kristiansen, Renate Reinsve, and Andreas Braaten. Oslo, August 31st is a rapturous and evocative film from Joachim Trier.
Told in the span of 24 hours, the film follows a recovering drug addict who is given a pass to leave the treatment center for a day to attend a job interview in Oslo as he deals with meeting old friends and such while pondering his own existence. It is a film that explores a man as he is hoping to get back to the world although there is a part of him that feels like he isn’t ready to return. The film’s screenplay by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt is largely straightforward as it opens with its protagonist in Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) who is first in another patient’s room as he walks to the forest in a suicide attempt that fails as he attends group therapy and is given a one-day pass to go to Oslo for this job interview for a magazine. During the course of the day, he catches up with an old friend in Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner) and his wife Rebekka (Ingrid Olava) who have a family while is trying to contact his sister Nina and his ex-girlfriend Iselin as he is unable to reach the latter. In the former, he ends up having lunch with her girlfriend Tove (Tone B. Mostraum) as she gives him news about his family home.
Throughout the course of the story, Anders often wanders around Oslo as it is a city that is evolving as the second act is more about Anders dealing with not just changes among those he knew but also the city itself as it would lead to a party where he is goaded into telling an old story to amuse a party guest. Yet, he would eventually hang out with another friend while coping about the fact if his life meant anything to anyone and does he still matter to anyone else including family and friends despite the lives they have.
Trier’s direction is definitely mesmerizing as he does make Oslo a major character in the film as it opens with a montage of footage of life in the city told by other people through different aspect ratios. It sets the stage for the world that Anders is about to enter as the city is filled with sections that are in construction but also places that are landmarks where it is a place that is thriving as Trier also showcases the city when it’s not busy or moments where it is busy and vibrant. The usage of wide and medium shots where Trier doesn’t just capture certain streets and locations that Anders is in but also in a few places such as Thomas and Rebekka’s home, a house where a party is held, or a public swimming pool. Trier also uses close-ups to play into Anders’ own state of mind where the camera would gaze into some of the conversations he is having but also knows when to create a nice wide shot in order to play into Anders’ attempt to be part of the world.
Trier also play into this sense of uncertainty that Anders endures when he meets up with Mirjam (Kjaersti Odden Skjeldal) at her party where also attending is another old friend in Petter (Petter Width Kristiansen) who is with a couple of younger women in Renate (Renate Reinsve) and Johanne (Johanne Kjellevik Ledang) as they would take Anders to a rave and other places including a scene of the four riding bicycles through Oslo. It is among these moments in the film that is memorable as it also play into Anders feeling unsure of where he wants to go as he is struggling to get clean but he’s also tempted to do drugs again as the film’s finale is about a man dealing with himself and his role in the world. Overall, Trier crafts a riveting and engrossing film about a day in the life of a recovering drug addict as he returns to the world for a job interview.
Cinematographer Jakob Ihre does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the daytime interior/exterior scenes with some low-key lights for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Olivier Bugge Coutte does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in allowing shots to linger for more than a minute while also employing a few stylish cuts including the film’s opening montage. Production designer Jorgen Stangebye Larsen and art director Solfrid Kjetsa do fantastic work with the look of the home that Thomas and Rebekka live in as well as Mirjam’s home and the family house that Anders used to live in.
Costume designer Ellen Daehli Ystehede does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward in the casual look of Anders with a stylish dress that Mirjam wears at her party. Sound designer Gisle Tveito does superb work with the sound as it adds to the dramatic atmosphere of the film with the way music is presented on location or how sounds are presented on a certain location. The film’s music by Ola Flottum and Torgny Amdam is wonderful as it is largely low-key with its usage of ambient and soothing string arrangements while much of the soundtrack features pieces from Sebastian Tellier, a-ha, Desire, Glass Candy, Daft Punk, Kung Fu Girls, and Youth Brigade.
The casting by Christian Rubeck and Emil Trier is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Oystein Roger as the magazine editor David who interviews Anders, Renate Reinsve and Johanne Kjellevik Ledang as a couple of young ladies hanging out with Petter, Petter Width Kristiansen as an old friend of Anders in Petter, Emil Lund as the drug dealer Calle, Malin Crepin as a patient that Anders is sleeping with early in the film, Askel Thanke as Anders’ therapist, Andreas Braaten as a man who goads Anders into telling a story, Ingrid Olava as Thomas’ wife Rebekka, and Anders Borchgrevink as a man who slept with Anders’ girlfriend that Anders confronts at a bar.
Kjaersti Odden Skjeldal is fantastic as an old friend of Anders in Mirjam who hosts a party as she discusses about her own disappointments with life while Tone B. Maustraum is brilliant as the girlfriend of Anders’ sister in Tove who understands Anders’ frustration and knows he’s trying to clean up as she is also aware of why Anders’ sister is reluctant to meet him. Hans Olav Brenner is excellent as Thomas as an old friend of Anders who know has a family while also admitting his own frustrations with family life. Finally, there’s Anders Danielsen Lie in a phenomenal performance as Anders as a former drug addict who is given a one-day leave from rehab to attend a job interview as he deals with his own feelings on the world and whether he deserves a second chance in society as well as temptation into using drugs again as it is a haunting and entrancing performance from Lie.
Oslo, August 31st is a tremendous film from Joachim Trier that features a great leading performance from Anders Danielsen Lie. Along with its ensemble cast, study of alienation and uncertainty in the world, gorgeous visuals, and a somber music soundtrack. The film is truly an intoxicating character study as well as a look of a recovering drug addict trying to find meaning in his life and deal with the idea if he deserves a second chance. In the end, Oslo, August 31st is a spectacular film from Joachim Trier.
Related: The Fire Within
Joachim Trier Films: (Reprise (2006 film)) – (Louder Than Bombs) – (Thelma (2017 film)) – (The Other Munch) - (The Worst Person in the World)
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