Discover This: Oslo, 31. August

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

To win 1 of 5 free tickets for a screening at the Fsk please send an email to, subject: BE LOVED.
Please explain in one sentence why you want to see that film – winners will be noticed at 5 pm on Friday 5th.

Discover This! is a weekly Berlin–based film comment.


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  1. Liz on


    Thank you so much for this beautifully written review! I will definitely go and see the movie now!

  2. Toby Ashraf on


    Here is the complete life wish list that a teenage girl in the film reads to her best friend:
    “I want to marry, have kids. Travel the world. Buy a house. Have romantic holidays. Eat only ice cream for a day. Live abroad. Reach and maintain my ideal weight. Write a great novel. Stay in touch with old friends. I want to plant a tree. Make a delicious dinner from scratch. Feel completely successful. Go ice bathing, swim with dolphins. Have a birthday party, a proper one. Live to be a hundred. Stay married until I die. Send an exciting message in a bottle and get an equally interesting reply. Overcome all my fears and phobias. Lie watching the clouds all day. Have an old house full of knickknacks. Run a full marathon. Read a book that’s so great I’ll remember quotes from it all my life. Paint stunning pictures that show how I really feel. Cover a wall with paintings and words close to my heart. Own all the seasons of my favourite shows. Attract attention to an important issue, make people listen to me. Go sky-diving, skinny-dipping, fly a helicopter. Have a good job I look forward to every day. I want a romantic, unique proposal. Sleep beneath open skies. Hike on Besseggen, act in a film or a play at the National Theatre. Win a fortune in the lottery. Make useful everyday items. And be loved.”

  3. vvs on


    Reading this made me want to revisit the film. Thank you for your beautiful review.

    After I first saw it, I got hold of the book it’s based on (the 1931 novel by Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle) and the Louis Malle adaptation to film (LE FEU FOLLET, 1963). But despite this being an interesting research, OSLO has achieved something that goes beyond the zeitgeist or the sentiments described by La Rochelle or Malle: with its many layers, OSLO is pure, existential, contemporary, visual and lyrical poetry. Even though it’s been a while since I saw it, I remember it more vividly than most other films I ever watched.

    REPRISE, his previous film, is a prequel of sorts with the same cast. It is also interesting for anyone keen to dig deeper, but OSLO stands firmly on its own feet.

  4. Alexandra on


    Does anyone know where the film might be shown with English subtitles?

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