It hasn't been a good one for the disaffected on the Croisette today. Lars Von Trier kicked things off with his Earth-destroying examination of the depths of depression in "Melancholia," and this afternoon, Joachim Trier unveiled his sophomore feature film "Oslo, August 31st." Delivered with more nuance than Von Trier, containing the sensitivity missed in that provocateur's film and powered by a strong lead performance by Anders Danielsen Lie, who is nearly every frame, "Oslo, August 31st" still succumbs to a romantically tragic conclusion that can't help but feel a little cliche.
Based very loosely on Pierre Drieu La Rochelle’s “Le feu follet” (which Louis Malle sourced for his 1963 film of the same name) the film opens with a gorgeous, elegiac montage of scenes from Oslo, with a voice over poetically describing the memories and moments attached to the images that playback like a Super 8 home movie. It's a lovely sequence that puts introduces us to the city our lead character Anders calls home, and will be spending the next twenty-four hours remembering and rediscovering.
What emerges from here is a film that is an intense character study of a man struggling with the fact that essentially, he's going to have to start his life all over again in his mid-30s. Mourning the choices he's made, the opportunities he's missed, the relationships he's destroyed, Anders spends the day reconnecting with people from his past, trying to reconcile and more importantly, trying to find hope. This isn't a plot-driven film, but one that ambles (and sometimes drags) at its own aching pace. Where Von Trier presented his characters in "Melancholia" with one note simplicity, here we get a much more organic approach. Rather than each of the people that Anders meets with throughout the day marking some kind of conventional character marker, these people are drawn much more realistically, with doubts, hopes and fears in their own lives and in how Anders will find a place in it now that he's cleaned up (knock on wood). Underneath all this is an insider's postcard and love letter to Oslo, and a nostalgic reminder of youthful exuberance that gives way to middle age passivity.
Joachim Trier impressed many at The Playlist with his debut "Reprise" and "Oslo, August 31st" at the very least, showcases a director with a tremendous talent for character and a striking, at times painterly, eye behind the camera. A meandering character study of a man at the end of his rope, the film may not travel very far (at least not very fast), but Trier remains a director to keep an eye on who has a distinct voice that will undoubtedly deliver bigger and better things down the road. [B-]
"Oslo August 31st" opens Friday, May 25th.