While I did enjoy the Millennium trilogy, and thought Headhunters was one of 2012’s superior thrillers, the impression they give is that the only thing Scandinavia is supplying cinematically at the moment is bleak, brutish noir. Joachim Trier has other plans.
Oslo, August 31st is also bleak, but in a completely different way to those aforementioned films. Anders, a recovering addict living in a nondescript rehabilitation clinic on the outskirts of Oslo, travels into the city for a job interview and to see people from his old life. The film progresses in a drifting manner but always stays focused. Trier slowly reveals aspects of Anders’ past yet I didn’t feel like I’d really learnt anything about him at the end of the 90 minutes. This isn’t meant to be a story about either reintegration or compassion. When Anders stops someone who he appears to have had a run-in with before, essentially to say ‘no hard feelings’, there is no great confrontation or act of forgiveness. The encounter simply ends awkwardly, with Anders leaving wondering why he bothered in the first place.
The great Whit Stillman, speaking at the 2011 Stockholm International Film Festival, described the film as “a perfectly painted portrait of a generation”. That sentiment is probably best expressed in two scenes. The first takes place when Anders is taking a coffee break after the job interview goes disastrously. His attention darts between the various conversations taking place in the café and finally centres on two girls talking about their life wish lists. One of the girls details all the ambitious things she wants to achieve, and it is clear she possesses the determination and lust for life that Anders, who constantly tells us others he is ‘doing much better’, seems to have lost. The other scene, which I don’t want to spoil, takes place right at the end of the film. It was the moment that I realised I was watching a very special film from a filmmaker attempting to depict a very different side of modern Norwegian life than Jo Nesbo.