All Things August: Joachim Trier’s “Oslo, August 31st”

oslo5When it comes to watching films of certain eras, genres, sub-genres, or countries, or watching films made by certain directors, cinematographers, studios, or even ones featuring certain actors, let’s face it, we can’t possibly see them all. Now, as diverse as I like to pride myself as being, I too have a number of gaps to fill within my ever ongoing quest to sample as much from the vast smorgasbord of film history as I possibly can before I die. This is why, starting this month (August) I will dedicate the last two weeks of each month to watching as many films as I can to movies that have the name of the month somewhere within their titles. Hopefully, come 12 months from now, this will be one more silly sub-sub-category of films that I can cross off my need-to-watch list.

As much as I keep telling myself this is fictional, there’s just no getting around it, Oslo, August 31st is the most accurate and insightful study of an addict’s mindset that I have ever seen portrayed in a movie – perhaps, even a little too real.

Early on in the film Anders, the addict, is asked during a group session if there is anything he would like to say regarding his upcoming job interview, for which he will be given a day pass to leave his rehab center for. As we soon will learn, his reply of “Well, there’s nothing to talk about”, couldn’t be further from the truth. The rest of the film takes place during Anders’ 24 hour leave, where he must face past acquaintances, friends, temptations, and ultimately, himself. Told with restraint and calm, oddly enough, Oslo winds up being as heartbreaking as it is heartening.

The film delves into the head space of someone struggling with addiction, and it does so without the aid of tropes generally associated with such downer material. Rather than shoot scenes of over-the-top emotional outbursts e.g., full-on sobbing, being wasted, an incident of violence, trippy camera effects, etc., Joachim Trier (director) and his crew find affectingly inventive ways to convey our addict’s self loathing, and ultimately self-centered existence. If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air when it comes to films about drugs, stop looking. This is it.

It’s like this: The heaviest burden that an addict can carry with themselves is that of him or herself; their isolation. They are almost always in their own heads, and often way more than they need to be. Now, I don’t know if Trier truly understands this or not, but judging from the many beautifully composed and thoughtfully constructed scenes I’d be surprised to learn that he hasn’t had some kind of first-hand experience with addiction himself. So as not to be misunderstood, I’m not saying Trier is an addict (I never met the guy), but if he is, or if he isn’t close to someone who is (or was), than even more praises must be due, for what he has accomplished would then be a whole new form of movie magic. Now, have I stressed enough what an extraordinary achievement I feel this movie is?

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