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August 03, 2012

Oslo, August 31st

oslo 31 august a.jpg

Oslo, 31. august
Joachim Trier - 2011
Strand Releasing

Even though it was written in 1931, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's story, Le Feu Follet, a story of an addict's final day, has proven to have be easily retold on film for at least two generations. The previous version, Louis Malle's, with the English title of The Fire Within, was made almost fifty years ago, in 1963. Joachim Trier has transposed the basic narrative to contemporary Oslo, Norway.

The importance of the city is established by the opening of the film. A montage of shots of Oslo past and present are accompanied by voices of people stating their first impressions of Oslo, or how living in Oslo changed their lives. For Anders, released for the day from the rehab clinic to go to a job interview, Oslo is meant to be a place for him to restart his life as a recovering drug addict. Instead, all of the past connections represented by the city pull Anders into a downward spiral that ends in a complete surrender.

oslo august 31st b.JPG

In an interview, Trier explains, " I think it was an honest portrayal of a person who is underneath and above at the same time. Nothing is good enough for him, so therefore he'd rather die than to be like the others. He's saying 'What's the way forward? What constitutes value in our life as creative people or as middle class people with choices?' The character in the book is also quite resourceful, like Anders is. They're different - different culture, different time - but they still share that they have choices and yet they don't know where to go."

I might be wrong, but I suspect that had someone made a film of La Rochelle's story, taking place at the time it was written, the still contemporary aspects to the story would not be as easily recognized or acknowledged. And in a way one might consider Trier's film radical in that not many, if any filmmakers nowadays make movies about alienation. The only others I can think of would be Gus Van Sant with Last Days and Lynne Ramsey's We Need to Talk about Kevin. Even if Anders did not do some of the various acts that undermine his recovery and reentry to society, it would be naive to assume that there would be any meaningful difference in his life.

The film end with a montage, yeah, I'm using that Cinema Studies 101 term again, of shots of Oslo again. No dialogue, only images of empty streets, of a city shut down for the night. I don't know whether this was deliberate or not, but it reminds me of the ending of another film that was made about the same time as Malle's. Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse, another classic film about urban alienation that ends with a series of shots of a deserted Rome.

There may be arguments regarding the influence of a city on a person's life. This has been explored with cities in general, specific cities, and even very specific neighborhoods. The return to Oslo causes Anders to seek out people and revisit events from the past that are connected to that city. In one scene, Anders overhears conversations in a restaurant populated by other people in their twenties and thirties, discussing their possibilities and choices and dreams for life. In another scene, Anders provides a voiceover about his parents and how they influenced him, or did not, with their own lives and opinions. What Anders cannot do is change, or in any way repair past events. Nor does he see any validity in some of the options made available to him. Sadly, Anders chooses the path of least resistance to the indifference of life.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 3, 2012 08:27 AM