Watched Aug 26, 2012
Is this really by the director of "Reprise?" You could've fooled me! Gone are the fancy camera tricks (save for some changes in focus), the flashy editing, the non-linear storyline, and basically all of the elements that made "Reprise" a stylistic standout. Despite these changes, I feel like Oslo 31 August is actually a stronger film. Its treatment of depression and drug addiction is so careful and sincere that the entire film is elevated from interesting indie to important must-see. As someone who knows a lot about mental illness on both a personal and a professional level, I really appreciate how honest and accurate this film is.
Anders is a 34-year old recovering Heroin addict who is released from rehab for one day solely for the purpose of a job interview. In one of the first scenes he tries to kill himself by drowning in a lake, but that doesn't go well. You still get the sense very early on that this is the last day of his life. The premise makes it sound like this is just like any other film you've seen about a drug addict, but Anders is quite different. He's very aware he has a problem and doesn't make any excuses. He knows he wants to use again and that his depression is getting the best of him. He still has a glimmer of hope that someone will save him from himself. He goes on a job interview for a writing job, which shows some ambition. He is said to have talent and is obviously very intelligent. I think this film stands heads and shoulders above similar films because this character is anything but a cliché, and doesn't deserve or ask for any of your pity.
Depression and drug addiction aren't solely about the horrible things that are happening in life. When you are suicidal, you give yourself chances for things to get better. You search for meaning and reasons to go on. Sometimes, you even go out and meet new people and have fun. He walks around the city introspectively, obviously pretty set on his decision to end his life but still trying to drink in what it's like to be alive. He meets new girls, flirts, makes out with them, and goes on silly adventures with them. His desperate need to talk to the people that are important in his life is what propels this film forward and gives this sense that he's trying to say goodbye. He wants to connect with someone who understands him because he is hoping one of them will give him a reason to live. He's crying out for help, but he's damaged those relationships so fully through the actions of his addiction he comes up empty. All of these moments are depicted in this film perfectly.
What makes the film so great is seeing everything from his point of view on potentially the last day of his life. Even if you've never been to Oslo, you feel like you're seeing it for the last time, like you're trying to savor all of its good parts and intentionally ignore the bad right alongside Anders. You also feel this incredible gap between him and the rest of Oslo, not just individuals, but crowds as well. Anytime he is shown walking in a shot with other people, there is at least a moment when he is out of focus. I feel like this technique was used to make him look like a ghost, but to also put us into his psyche of feeling completely disconnected from the world. He's out of focus and unsure how to be alive while the rest of the world understands what life is about and keeps on moving forward.
There are lots of memorable scenes that will stick with me forever. The voiceovers are sometimes jarring, but really add a depth and universality to the film that I really enjoyed. When he is at a party and this jerk wants to tell a bunch of strangers a really embarrassing story about him, Anders has trouble keeping up. He's listening and speaking, but his mind is obviously on the task at hand: surviving the party, and subsequently, his life. The smile he gives his new friends by the swimming pool towards the end… absolutely heart-stoppingly brilliant. The final ten minutes are so heart-wrenchingly beautiful and sad, I was moved to tears. I was inconsolable for over an hour. It was just really personal for me, I won't say anymore, but seriously, it's magnificent.
Trier has proven once again that he is a compassionate and competent filmmaker. I believe that his two films are some of the most important depictions of mental illness I've seen, so I am eagerly awaiting what else he'll grace us with in years to come.