Overlooked Film #8 – Oslo, August 31 (2011)

Vivid Poster for Joachim Trier's Oslo 31 Aug

Oslo, August 31 (2011) – Run Time: 95 Minutes

Available on Netflix Instant: Yes / Buy Oslo, August 31 (2012) on Amazon

A Brief Overview of Drug Cinema

Drug use is popular fodder for film because it can showcase a visual need and desire of a protagonist. It also allows a character to have different personas, ways of acting, realizations, an apparition or too. From stoner films like Cheech & Chong or Half Baked to reliving the high times of the 70s in films

But more often than not, the patterns of these films are highly recognizable and fit into a cookie cutter style. How many times have you seen the “oops, those are pot brownies!” scene on unsuspecting characters (usually parents or authority figures)? How about the archetypal dealing/addiction films like a Scarface, Blow, Rush, & Basketball Diaries or the memorable, critically acclaimed (Trainspotting, Requiem For a Dream, Boogie Nights)? Even something that stirs a bit of everything together (see: Pulp Fiction).

Often these films center on a protagonist or ensemble of soon to be junkies. We see how their life is affected by drug use over time as they devolve. At first, it gives them life & the filmmaker gets to show the happy feelings associated. In fact, directors probably include drug scene so they can give their own representation of the sensation of drug use – probably a favorite creative task for many directors from the moment they start shooting celluloid.

But eventually, it all devolves. The addiction spirals out of control or the dealer gets in over their head. The character gets strung out and either dies or goes to rehab, gets murdered, goes to jail or turns into a snitch. That decides if they will live or die, if they will be free or locked up. These films may end up talking about the internal battle associated with rehabilitation in a facility or a penitentiary. It may be a warning, give us a glimpse of the terror that awaits us and maybe even a glimmer of hope for those who can recover.

Oslo 31 Aug is not these films.

The Story

Where those films end is pretty much where Oslo, August 31 begins, when it actually starts its linear plot form. The first few minutes feature a montage, a whirlwind of scenes of life around Oslo with disconnected, faceless, voice-over bursts of people relying their first memories of encountering the city.

Then the film loses its voice as we meet Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) – a recovering Heroin addict (plus just about every other drug in the book) seeing the city again, for the first time.

The film follows Anders on his first day away from rehab on a pass, a chance to reacquaint with society and to interview for a prospective job for when he gets situated. This tight window gives us insight into the proverbial “new start” way after all “the fun” has worn off.

Anders is thin-framed, close-cropped hair and reminiscent of Ewan McGregor’s Renton with Spud’s big nose in Trainspotting sans the outgoing personality. And while there are glimpses, Oslo rarely celebrates or shows a reason of enjoyment in Anders drug use. It is much more about the draw and the accompanying pangs of withdrawal. The feeling of failure of a 30-something man who has nothing and is treated much like a recovering parasite.

It follows him as he tries to tackle that first day without his old, trusty best friend to back him up as he starts the reintegration and confrontation of old demons. A visit with a best friend, a job interview, a visit with a family member, the meetings you would expect someone who is reopening his eyes to do. But from the moment, the journey begins there is obvious struggle and tension built inside of him.

Reasons to Watch Oslo 31 Aug

  • A realistic depiction of recovery

Director Joachim Trier showcases from that moment how he is going to treat Anders through this film, a hands-off approach, mostly distant but with an inquisitive eye. The film’s overall style tries to stay close enough to see but uninvolved. The frank portrait depicted in the story is painful but extremely intimate. Trier’s adept handling of the material, distinguishing Anders’ various encounters segments makes this small, interesting to watch and gives it a beautiful sense of depth.

  • Beautiful cinematography.
  • Understated but powerful performances all around.
  • If you enjoy the Nordic feel of film-making, or have never experienced it.

Scenes to Look For

  • The Cafe Listening (especially girl and her list of hopes) plus the juxtaposition to an empty restaurant scene.
  • The Job Interview 
  • Dance Club Segment
  • Anders’ stream-of-consciousness internal monologue about his ‘ parents (“They made me a critical reader, contemptuous of the less eloquent”)


Questions to Ponder While Watching the Film

  • Does the date in the title have any meaning outside of being the actual date of the film? (Hint: Aug 31, is it the end of the summer or the beginning of the fall?)
  • What does the absence of his family mean?