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Ellen Dorrit Petersen,
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Without being melodramatic or overbearing, "Oslo, August 31st" is a heart-rending film about regret, and the difficulty in forgetting ones past in order to hope for a better future. "Oslo, August 31st" is an impressive adaptation that is wonderfully acted and directed -- a tender and subtle portrait of a tortured soul.
This 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. Some people are their own worst enemy, and Anders is exactly that person. His inability to connect with others leads to a bleak, empty existence. After a private suicide attempt, he insists in his support group that he's fine. The next day he goes to Oslo for a job interview, spending the majority of his day meeting people from his past.
The film follows Anders throughout the day with extended conversations with various people that tell us as much about Anders, as they do about themselves. Everything we learn about Anders and his past is only through these interactions, never resorting to flashbacks. Anders simultaneously displays a condescending contempt and deep envy. His friends now lead happy lives, even if it seems everyone has become much more domesticated and boring even as their responsibilities begin to amass. Anders has his freedom -- but his freedom feels completely empty and aimless.
In the best scene in the film, Anders sits alone at a coffee shop, taking in all the conversations around him. Everyone else is talking about their troubles, their aspirations, or their everyday routines. In contrast, Anders has none of these things. No real worries, no real direction in life. He's adrift, completely lost, and alone.
Lie's central performance as Anders is truly remarkable, a self-confessed "spoilt brat who messed up," his actions are not always sympathetic, but every little knock he takes over the course of the film has a cumulative effect. He's aided enormously by Trier's smart and analytical screenplay, as are the rest of the uniformly excellent cast.
It's an emotionally draining experience, and Anders' determinedly pessimistic outlook and inability to escape his past is as saddening as it is inevitable. Trier has carefully crafted a portrait of an addict, and the pressures of modern life with outstanding technical assurance. It's a sad story, but beautifully told.
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