Oslo, 31. august (2011)
Oslo, 31. august opens as a homage to Oslo, the capital of my beloved Norway, and continues to what appears to be a delve into one crucial day in the life of Anders, a 34-year-old recovering drug addict out on "parole" from his open-style rehab clinic. Unfortunately, both the homage and the delve turns out to be superficial and inane in nature, as writer/director Joachim Trier (Reprise) reveals himself to be more interested in style and intellectuality than he is about looking beyond the complacent and charmless society and protagonist we're only slightly getting acquainted with.
Trier's directorial style is about following his protagonist around with a handheld camera, with a lense as grainy as is to be expected in contemporary Norwegian cinema, and create shots so narrow and excluding that whatever impression we get of Oslo or the environments Anders circulates is forgettable at best. And much of the same can be said of what the script gives us of Anders: He is reduced to a state of being; disillusioned, lifeless frustration in protected, privileged circumstances. Anders represents the 21st century welfare-state drug-addict - he feels that the prospects of a "normal" life in this society is as numbing and meaningless as continuing his life as an addict. And if this bleak social criticism is Trier's objective with Oslo, 31. august, I guess you can say he has succeeded. But that would also require us viewers to share this world-view, to be happy to soak in the film's negativity and insipid outlook on life as small and unchangeable.
The Oslo we see in Oslo, 31. august is hardly something most of the city's drug addicts will recognize. It might be a city that Trier's fellow members of the semi-intelligentsia will recognize, but if any of the film's pessimism sticks, it's that in which this group of people end up biting their own tails. The film's bottom line is that it tries too hard to say something relevant and valid about society, but in doing so without distance, inspiration or any real substance, it turns out saying little about anything - other than about its creators - which is a meta-level that I'm not prepared to give Trier credit for. So despite all of Anders' suffering, actor Danielsen Lie's praiseworthy effort, and Trier's obvious desire to create something important, when that final moment eventually comes, we really do not have that much reason to care.