This week in movies you missed: a day in the life of a recovering addict.
What You Missed
Thirty-four-year-old Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) has been in rehab for the past 10 months. The morning after his first overnight leave, he wakes beside a woman in a motel, leaves, tramps through the woods and tries to drown himself in a pond.
It’s harder than he thought. So Anders goes through with the plan for August 30: He takes a cab into his hometown of Oslo, sees an old friend and has a job interview. Everyone encourages Anders to focus on the future, but as he sees his contemporaries moving past him — starting careers and families — he wonders if he has one. Has he spent too much time “partying” to start over? Will his former girlfriend, who once tried to save him, even answer his calls? Can he withstand the city’s temptations as night falls?
Why You Missed It
Oslo, August 31st, the second film from young Norwegian director Joachim Trier (Reprise), premiered at Cannes but screened in just seven U.S. theaters.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Much like an Elliott Smith song, Oslo, August 31st is an aesthetically pleasant experience that becomes incredibly depressing once you get below the surface prettiness and hear those suicidal lyrics. But the combination of visual beauty (that Scandinavian summer light!) and uncompromising melancholy has its own rewards.
Trier based the film loosely on Le Feu Follet, a 1963 Louis Malle movie (itself based on the Pierre Drieu La Rochelle novel) about a recovering alcoholic contemplating suicide. Oslo asks the question: Why would someone with so much promise on paper — Anders is, after all, still young, supported by his well-off parents, bright and well spoken — want to end everything? And answers it.
Not everyone will be satisfied with that answer. But Trier captures his protagonist’s mood of disappointment and nostalgia so acutely that it’s hard not to feel it, too. That mood is tied to the city itself: The film opens with footage of street scenes accompanied by voiceovers of several people discussing their memories of Oslo. Who are these people? It doesn’t matter, but they do indicate there’s a collective element to Anders’ experience.
That opening bears fruit in a later scene, the boldest one in the movie, where Anders sits alone in a café. As he watches passersby, we see quick montages of where they’re going (or where he imagines they’re going). Conversations in the café fade in and out as Anders overhears them. But one voice eventually dominates: that of a young woman reading a list of goals (or wishes) for her future. Her plans range from the mundane (get married and have kids) to the wildly ambitious to the weird, and she keeps going till it’s obvious that no one on earth could check off every item on this bucket list.
And there sits our protagonist, whose goals have narrowed, at least for the past 10 months, to sobriety. His friends are better off, but their prospects have narrowed, too: One spends his free time playing video games; another worries she’ll lose her friends if she doesn’t get pregnant soon.
No wonder that later in the film, when Anders meets a college girl out for a good time, he tells her she’ll forget what transpires between them that night: “It’s a law of nature.” When you’re young, every night out could be the beginning of an amazing adventure. When you’re older, you know it’s not that easy to break the patterns and start over from scratch.
Verdict: It will stick with me, for the same reasons as Beginners and The Future.
More New DVD Releases
Appropriate Adult (British TV drama about two serial killers, with Emily Watson and Dominic West)
The Cup (true story of a winning jockey, with Brendan Gleeson)
The Forgiveness of Blood (drama about Albanian blood feuding)
The Heineken Kidnapping (Rutger Hauer plays the Dutch beer magnate)
Neil Young Journeys (Jonathan Demme captures Young on a road trip and in performance.)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)