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Oslo, 31. august (2011)
Beautiful, true and devastating
The most hard-hitting and resonant film I've seen in a long time, Oslo August 31st sets itself up with serene, fuzzy home footage and tales of blissful memories spent in the titular city of Oslo only to cut to the bleak life of Anders, a former heroin addict on his first day of life out of rehab. Searching for a meaning and a purpose in this new life he finds little in his friends' bourgeois city routines, which he neither desires nor feels he could achieve anyway, and their claims that "it'll all get better" fail to move a mind constantly probing and analysing the reality of his situation.
He soon undergoes an intense conversation in a park overlooking the city with his closest friend, wherein Anders pours out his thoughts of the time the two have spent apart, and the precision of their rapport matched with the lead's acting make the whole scene feel horribly real.
Anders wanders the often-empty city like a ghost, sitting in a café surrounded by the hollow dreams of others ("Plant a tree. Swim with dolphins. Write a great novel") and dwelling on the weight of his own existence. In two minds whether to leave the city, increasingly desperate and always beautifully shot, we follow him through the night until sunrise, when Anders appears to us in a sequence at his most unpredictable.
Undeniably disturbing, yet intimate and tender, this is a film that already feels close to my heart, one unafraid to bring up difficult questions and brilliantly able to provoke an idea of the absurdity of it all.
To Glorify A Predator
Firstly, as much as this movie is being praised for the less simplistic portrayal of a relationship between an adult and a child than we usually get in the national discourse, there's a definitely creepy underlying message along the lines of the NAMBLA ideology that this "pederasty" as it's known is serving some sentimental need of both participants - the ending to the film leaves Howie essentially a 3-time orphan, and as such we are supposed to feel his relationship with "Big John" (eugh) was more one of support than of abuse.
This idea is pushed upon us at other points, such as the man's rejection of the child on the bed, and a line about Howie needing a father figure (in case we couldn't read between the lines ourselves) but I just found the whole notion of Cuesta trying to make the audience question the self-righteousness of paedophile-bashing pretty nauseating - these 'relationships' are child abuse, and from initial blackmail to driving back to the rest stop at the film's (flimsy) ending this man is clearly not changed by the Walt Whitman-quoting benevolent influence of Howie as is suggested. Rather he corrupts the alienated suburban teen and his death leaves the poor kid with one more kick to the braces
This weird moralising undercurrent basically ruined the second half of the film for me, as well as the occasional tasteless monster-clichés that I guess the director felt were necessary to balance the pro-paedophilia stance of the rest of the movie - one scene has the abuser explaining he's "always ashamed" but that's all that is verbalised and as such the sentimentality feels very phony.
ANYWAY I wanted to add that the first half of the film actually really impressed me, the Larry Clark-style diner sequence and general hoodrat bravado, the boredom of a big empty house, slow scenes of his life being given the time to become realistic, it was all going so well but then the plot started to lose its way, and the whole stupid non-romance shifted into fast-forward and Brian Cox kept pulling this bemused face to show he had depth while Howie said something profound-but- essentially-out-of-character (flicking between bright-spark-with-love- of-poetry//confused-and-bewildered-victim).
Although not a bad piece of film-making on the whole, this doesn't deserve a second viewing and I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it, and I'm even thinking now that this is a film destined to preach to the ephebophile choir in the disturbing way the internet serves to already. Go watch Mysterious Skin instead