It takes a while to recognise the story at the heart of Norwegian director Joachim Trier's sophomore effort as the same that Louis Malle based his own 1963 classic Le Feu follet (The Fire Within) on. Notorious French writer Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle's tale of an alcoholic doing the rounds of his friends while considering whether to kill himself is here turned by Mr. Trier and his co-writer, Eskil Vogt, into a graceful, heartbreaking tale of a recovering drug addict wandering through modern-day Oslo, looking for a reason to go on living after having wasted his life and burnt every bridge with friends and family.

     Anchored in non-pro Anders Danielson Lie's stirring, stunning, raw bleeding performance, Oslo, August 31st becomes an observational look at the state of the modern world as seen through the existential questioning of a character who feels so much outside society he is unsure, unable or unwilling to ever understand he may have a way back into it. Summertime Oslo is here used as both a Proustian madeleine to what once was and a living reminder that you can't go home again; Mr. Trier's handling has a moody, ghostly yet lighter-than-air quality, heightened by an initial suicide attempt shot almost as a reverse baptism, and the glorious, beautiful quality of the way the city is filmed. This makes Oslo, August 31st both a requiem for a wasted life or a grace note, a fleeting moment of reprieve in between life and death.

     Somewhere between the classicism of a melancholy melodrama (with so little yet so much in common with Mr. Malle's remarkable film) and a pensive meditation on life as we know it, it is an outstanding film; a superb, unexpected achievement.

Cast: Anders Danielson Lie, Malin Crepin, Aksel M. Thanke, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Øystein Røger, Tøne B. Mostraum, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Petter Width Kristiansen, Emil Lund, Johann Kjellevik Ledang, Renate Reinsve, Andreas Braaten, Anders Borchgrevink

Director: Joachim Trier
Screenplay: Eskil Vogt, Mr. Trier, from the novel by Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle, Le Feu follet
Cinematography: Jakob Ihre (colour)
Music: Ola Sløttum, Torgny Amdam
Designer: Jørgen Stangebye Larsen
Costumes: Ellen Dæhli Ystehede
Editor: Olivier Bugge Coutté
Producers: Hans-Jørgen Osnes, Yngve Sæther, Sigve Endresen (Motlys in co-production with Don't Look Now)
Norway, 2011, 90 minutes

Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival 2011 competitive selection, October 30th 2011


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