Starring Anders Danielsen Lie. Written by Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt. Directed by Joachim Trier. 14A. 93 min. Opens Aug. 10.
With his superb debut feature, Reprise (2006), Norwegian director Joachim Trier displayed a strong knack for portraits of people who lose their bearings on the rocky journey between reckless youth and semi-responsible adulthood. The same description applies to the troubled protagonist of Trier’s follow-up, Oslo, August 31, a smart, sensitive, and perceptive drama that more than matches the quality of its predecessor.
“I’m a spoilt brat who fucked up” is the blunt self-assessment by Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a 34-year-old recovering addict who has been clean for nearly 10 months but doubts his ability to start his life over from scratch. Temporarily released from his rehab facility to attend a job interview in his hometown of Oslo, Anders spends the day and subsequent night reconnecting with the people in his life and edging ever closer to the abyss once again.
Though Anders talks of suicide during a frank and fraught conversation with his friend Thomas, the film’s tone is curiously light. Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt capture the more free-associative quality of their literary inspiration, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle’s 1931 novel Le feu follet. That the same book previously spawned a 1963 feature by Louis Malle is perfectly fitting—like Reprise, Oslo, August 31 evokes the spontaneity and vitality of the French New Wave without becoming a more cloying kind of homage. Just as remarkable is the movie’s ability to skirt the clichés of showier junkie melodramas and cut straight through to Anders’ feelings of failure and regret. His tragedy lies in his inability to see how these emotions connect him with the people around him rather than set him apart.