Oslo, August 31st

Oslo, August 31st ★★★★½

A moving portrait of addiction, "Oslo August 31st" moves surprisingly swiftly considering it's such a talkative film, and not necessarily about the visuals, though there is some wonderful editing, especially in the coffee shop scene, which follows random conversations that we listen to with Anders - hope, loneliness, perfectionism, desperation - it's all there.

Both the opening and ending sequences of the film are poetic, almost literary for lack of a better word, and brought to mind many possible allusions. For example, the opening sequence at the lake made me think of Virginia Woolf, how hard things must have to be to take someone there. To that point.

Anders, the addict and central character of the film, starts off with a will to survive that seems relatively strong. Knowing he's gone through treatment, we might read the scene at the lake as a hopeful rebirth. Thereafter we join him on what seems to be a journey to reconnect with friends, family, and ex-loves, which is painful and sad, but which feels entirely sincere. Our perspective is Anders' perspective; we identify with no one else throughout the short run time.

As it turns out, however, his effort is built on a series of literal absences - voids in his life.

In the film's first lengthy scene, Anders has a meaningful and candid visit with his old friend Thomas, which serves as a brilliant exposition for the remainder of the film; slowly, slowly, we come to understand why and how Anders is struggling, after listening to their very real-seeming heart-to-heart, which concludes with Thomas pleading with Anders to come to a party later, a savvy bit of foreshadowing.

After this scene, the film reverberates with emptiness.

Anders goes to a job interview but the void in his resume gives up his past. He repeatedly calls his ex-girlfriend, but he only ever reaches her machine. He ventures forth to meet with his sister, but she doesn't show up, sending a friend in her place. His parents are ... nowhere to be seen. After sleeping alone in a park, he decides to go to the party to which Thomas invited him; but Thomas doesn't show up. NO ONE is there for him.

When he goes down the rabbit hole, where nothing is real, it's understandable. Everything makes sense. We get it. We see through his eyes.

This part of the film is predictable and also - by far - the most difficult. The suspense is palpable because of its predictability.

The closing sequences are brilliant: first at the pool, a full circle return to water; then at the piano, where he can't finish; then in his room, a scene which - for whatever reason - immediately brought to mind Jacque-Louis David's "Marat"; and finally we're left with a backwards coda re-running the journey, emphasizing the film's core emptiness.

I wanted to hug Anders so badly.

We leave vulnerable people alone too much. We distance ourselves when people need us most. Sometimes, perhaps they are unreachable. But maybe if we pick up, and show up, we can close the gap just enough.

And maybe that swim and sunrise will mean what they're suppose to mean.

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