It’s very rare that a film gives you goose pimples after only two and a half minutes. There is a prologue to Oslo, 31. August that is so beautiful and enigmatic that, if for some reason you have to leave the cinema right after it, you won’t regret having bought a ticket. What unfolds is a rapid montage of vintage footage, intimate shots of Oslo, and bits of home video. We listen as many different people recall personal details and situations that link them to the town of Oslo and their lives there.
There is a subtle melancholy present in the memories and the montage ends with the tearing down of the 15-story Philips Building in the middle of Oslo. End of prologue.
Next, we see a man waking up in a motel room. He looks at a woman lying in bed, walks to the window, and looks out. The man escapes the scene, walks through a forest, and stops at a lake. There, he puts heavy stones in his pockets, eventually picks up a rock that he holds in his arms like a newborn baby, and slowly walks into the lake. He disappears – and comes up again.
Oslo, 31. August is the story of a rebirth told within one day in the life of former drug addict Anders (spectacularly performed by Anders Nielsen Lie). The breath-taking beauty of both the prologue and this first scene introduce an existential story of life that is about to unfold in the shimmering hours of a summer day in Norway.
Anders returns to his rehab centre and takes part in a group session whose participants confess that life after the addiction is like having to start all over again. This seems to be what Anders longs for, but after having burnt one bridge too many, the return to normal is more difficult than expected.
The prologue and its many voices always return to the story of the film as director Joachim Trier links the state of his protagonist to a general modern malaise of young urban people. When Anders pays his old friend Thomas a visit, the questions of a perfect life and a happy future are mirrored in what seems to be the exact opposite of Anders -‐ Thomas has a wonderful wife, an adorable kid and lives in a beautiful apartment. And yet, a private chat in the backyard reveals that many things are at odds and that the most socially accepted ways of living don’t necessarily mean that you have taken the right path. A “normal life” is no guarantee for happiness either.
Anders is a drifter and an outcast. He walks in and out of situations and feels that it’s too late to start anew. There’s a job interview gone wrong, a date that is cancelled and eventually a party he wasn’t invited to. Towards the end he stands on a public place in Oslo with a stranger and shows her a special “echo spot” from which every sound you make comes back to you. Throughout this day, echoes have always been present; in fact, Anders’ entire perception of himself has been based on the echoes his environment has given him. The notion that a subject never exists freely and independently, but is always formed and defined, “called upon,” and subjected by the voices of others, finds its poetic expression in the story of this film. The echoes of employers and friends and strangers and former enemies build a self that Anders finds unbearable to accept.
In another wonderfully shot and masterfully edited scene towards the middle of the film, Anders sits in a café and listens to the people around him. He watches passers-‐by and in his mind follows them on their way through town. The voices, the echoes in his head, form a random melange of social wishes and desires and almost painfully portray the illusion that a perfect life can be pinned down and measured, or even put into a list. Two teenage girls read each other their life wish lists. Their wishes include everything from living to be a hundred to owning “all the seasons of my favourite shows” to feeling completely successful. The list ends with “And be loved.”
Oslo, 31. August is set in Norway’s capital, but it could also take place anywhere else because it deals with the universal questions of being socially accepted and being happy. The film, among other things, raises the question, if we can overcome past mistakes although our environment constantly reminds us of them. It also asks us if we can be without others and tells us about our search for love and desire to be loved. All that in a magnificent and sometimes overwhelmingly beautiful film that must be watched on a big screen!
Oslo, 31. August, Norway 2011, 95 min.
director: Joachim Trier, cinematography: Jakob Ihre, actors: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans
Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, languages: Norwegian, distributor: Peripher
Berlin screenings: fsk, Central
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