Cannes (Un Certain Regard) – Joachim Trier fired a gust of fresh air up the arse crack of European cinema with his 2006 debut, Reprise. Can he repeat the trick with his second feature? Paul Martin finds out.
How do all those people you used to hang out with at parties, who you used to see frequenting the same bars as you, cope when they reach their mid-thirties and the novels, albums, screenplays, movies, comic books, and political manifestos that they used to tell all and sundry were barely a crossed 't' and dotted 'i' away from being unleashed and changing the cultural landscape FOREVER are about as likely to be completed by their authors as Schubert's eighth?
If Joachim Trier's Reprise was the youthful dream of glory, a reflection of those lofty ambitions which are almost certain never to manifest as reality but which, for now, by virtue of the years not yet having tumbled by in sufficiently great numbers, can remain unbanished from the realm of the possible, then Oslo, August 31st is the Norwegian director's account of what comes next. The era of beautiful idiocy, of senseless optimism, has well and truly passed.
The main character in Oslo is Anders (played by Reprise's Anders Danielsen Lie), a 34-year-old whose life has not turned out as he had hoped or envisaged. As is gradually revealed, he was an artistically-inclined young man, a little pretentious perhaps, but with a gift for writing and an active social life on the scenester circuit of the Norwegian capital, as well as a relationship with the apparent love of his life, Iseline (the enigma who casts a shadow over Trier's new movie like Marcellus Wallace's glowing briefcase does Pulp Fiction). But he fell into a self-destructive cycle of addiction, most catastrophically heroin, and has effectively been missing from his old life for five years.
During the period which the movie encompasses (a 24-hour spell running up to the early hours of the titular date), Anders is on the verge of re-entry to what is sometimes referred to as polite society, supposedly clean as a freshly-laundered sheet, following a stint in a rehab clinic. However, considering almost the first thing we, as the audience, see him do is load his jacket pockets with stones, take up a larger rock in his arms as if it were a granite infant, before then trying, unsuccessfully, to drown himself, it seems reasonable to infer that he is far from being an entirely well bunny.
This suicide plunge having proved a washout, Anders returns to the clinic, and proceeds with the day that has been prescribed for him by his counsellors – a lone outing to his home city, with the intent of seeing friends, family, and possibly even securing a job. Once in Oslo, he hooks up again with old buddies like Thomas and Petter (played by Aksel M. Thanke and Petter Width Kristiansen respectively), and sees first-hand how they are coping as middle-age begins to encroach. Probably fair to say the results are inconclusive, as he finds the former having surrendered to child-rearing domesticity, and the latter still partying like it's 1999, going to raves with girls who were most likely watching Teletubbies (or the Norwgian equivalent) when he dropped his first E.
It is evident from that early botched attempt at taking his own life and a subsequent conversation with Thomas that Anders continues to live under a very dark shadow, and a major question mark lingers over whether he can keep his demons at bay. He continues with his day nonetheless, meeting Mirjam (Tone B. Mostraum), an old lover who has moved on so far as to be practically inhabiting another plane of reality, and making periodic phone calls to his ultimate object of desire, Iseline – the lifebelt that could save him from sinking further, if only she would pick up. He finds the house he grew up in has been put on the market, and that his family are absent, with his sister's lover, Tove (Øystein Røger), the sole on-hand presence to provide any link to that sphere of his existence.
There are definite echoes of his Reprise role in the character played in Oslo, August 31st by the excellent, empathy-eliciting Anders Danielsen Lie. Again, he is a sensitive writer, just coming back from a breakdown, and again, he got particularly screwed up over an obsession with his ideal (idealised?) woman. Trier and his co-writer, Eskil Vogt, also once more prove themselves funny and accurate chroniclers of the slightly spoiled middle classes, as they deliver wittily truthful dialogue that is not afraid to wear its cultural knowledge on its sleeve (“Proust is Proust” remarks Thomas; Anders castigates pop-intellectual magazine articles that attempt to shotgun marry Sex and the City with Schopenhauer).
The framing is largely unadorned – even simple set-ups find the camera jittering slightly, as static positions are eschewed in favour of hand-held recorders – although this should not be taken to suggest that there is an absence of artful imagery (a scooter/fire extinguisher interface proves especially eye-catching). There are a few playful sops to formal experimentation too; for example, the movie opens with documentary voice-overs, recorded by Trier, of people revealing their memories of Oslo.
The whole might not be as fresh and explosive as Reprise, but that is hardly surprising. That was the party. This is the hangover. Only minus Mike Tyson. And like, good.
Rating on a scale of 5 Norways to Nell: 4
Release date: UK = TBC; US = TBC
Directed by: Joachim Trier
Screenplay by: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt, suggested by the novel 'Le feu follet' by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Aksel M. Thanke, Tone B. Mostraum, Øystein Røger
Cert: UK = TBC; US = TBC
Running Time: 96 minutes
All you lucky IndieMoviesOnline users in the UK can watch Joachim Trier's brilliant debut, Reprise, here – in full and for free.