Critic Jurij Weidelhofer reviews 31. August, Oslo
Oslo. 31st August is one of those films that catch you again a few days after you have watched it. Suddenly you see the main character Anders sitting on a sunny park bench talking to his friend Thomas. Anders tells Thomas about his depression and that he cannot escape it without taking heroin. After he has finished his speech he tries to cover up the awkwardness of the situation by saying: “It will get better. It will all work out. “Having said this he looks done, pauses and smiles for an endless second at his friend before he eventually says: “except: it won’t”.
Joachim Trier’s second film starts with various people telling us about their most intense memory of Oslo. While those stories are told the restless camera takes us through the streets of the city, switches between centuries and even finds some beauty in the tearing down of the Philips building in April 2000. After this short intro the camera finds Anders. Anders is staying in a rehab outside of Oslo and tries to drown himself in the first scene by putting stones in the pocket of his leather jacket and walking into a lake. After diving into the water we can only see the steady surface twinkling in the sunlight. When Anders reappears he is coughing and lying down next to the lake.
Afterwards, the film follows Anders on his return to Oslo. He is supposed to go to a job interview as part of his rehab programme. Back in the city he meets his friend Thomas, goes to the job interview, realizes that his sister does not want to see him anymore and finally spends the night with distant friends on parties in a nostalgic evening just at the end of summer.
Throughout these scenes Anders’ feeling of isolation is a constant theme of the film.The Camera follows Anders glances. When he sits in a café watching passers-by we can see the life he is imagining other people to live. When Thomas is telling Anders that it would be easy for him to start writing again as he did before his addiction, Anders does not even seem to consider this opportunity of living a quiet live. He later says to Thomas: “If someone wants to destroy himself, society should allow him to do so”.The film never blames the city for Anders feelings. The hopeless places are elsewhere. When Anders is in rehab outside of Oslo, the place with its football showers, the motorway and a nearby lake seem hopeless and ugly. The pictures appear to be a portrait of Anders complete numbness. Oslo though is always portrayed in beautiful, intense colours. When Thomas or Anders’ former lover Mirjam are telling him about their problems in life they are surrounded by an intensely beautiful atmosphere within the city. It‘s not the city but the people who create the problems here.
Even though the constant melody of the film is sad and melancholic, Oslo. 31st August is a passionate declaration of love for the city of Oslo. When Andres strolls through the streets in morning light accompanied by nothing but the steady Eye of the camera the viewer can’t avoid the wish for this scene to last forever, to never see the next scene of depression, to always stay within the short smile in sunlight between the various sad confessions. Joachim Trier seems to worship this feeling of never-ending moments. We find it in long parties, Anders’ restless trip through the night, a far too early morning swim in a public swimming bath and even in Anders playing the piano.
When Anders finally enters the house of his parents in morning light it is empty, as his parents have just sold it to pay off his drug debts. Anders silently walks through the rooms, sits down and pauses. It once again becomes clear that Oslo. 31st August is a beautiful film of hopelessness.
Nine out of Ten