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Norwegian blues | The Velvet Café

oslo31augustiDo you go to the movies to escape from the sorrows and burdens of real life? Is all you want from a film to get a few laughs, some thrills and the opportunity to pretend that you’re the best friend of someone who is vastly prettier, richer and more successful than you are? If that is the case, I’d dare say that Oslo, August 31st probably isn’t for you.

This is a Norwegian movie about Anders, who is a recovering drug addict, soon to be released from a rehab center. As the movie begins he makes a failed suicide attempt. He then goes to Oslo, primarily to make a job interview, but also to see some friends and his sister and we follow him as he’s wandering around, seeing various people and overhearing conversations in cafés.

He looks at the average life that his old friends are living, a life where you’re playing Battlefield with your girlfriend since you’re too exhausted to have sex, a life where remembering where you put the teething ring for your baby is essential. It’s a life that he could have had and probably still could get, provided that he made a sincere effort. But does he want it? If this is what life looks like, is it really worth living?

Agonizing to watch
It is quite agonizing to follow the endeavors of Anders (brilliantly played by Anders Danielsen Lie). There were times when I felt like crying out loud: “For God’s sake, just pull yourself together, stop feeling so goddamn sorry for yourself!” And I could easily have shoveled some words of positive thinking from a self-help book into his throat if I had met him in real life. This was a guy who obviously had a lot of intelligence and talent, so why waste it on sulking?

But there were other times when I watched the world through his eyes and found myself nodding with tears in my eyes: “Life sucks. It really does. I understand where you’re coming from. What are you going to do and what’s the point anyway, really?”

And throughout the entire film the question is hanging in the air: where is he heading? He has arrived at a crossroad. Will he go on living, starting a new, drug-free life? Will he fall back into his old habits? Or will he let it end there?

I won’t hide the fact that I cried at the end. So did the four other visitors in the theatre. Five middle aged women, spread over the salon, each one sobbing in her loneliness. What a sight! (Sadly enough there weren’t more of us, even if this movie had opened only a few days earlier, despite the brilliant reviews it had gotten. As what I’ve heard of, the Swedish audience is hard to convince to give Norwegian movies a chance for some reason.)

Louis Malle
Not giving away the end I’m not going to tell you what provoked those tears, if it was tears of grief or joyous relief. But as I’ve already told, while the movie as a whole contains a lot of sadness, even though also has glimpses of humor, occasional one-liners and moments of recognition of the bourgeois lifestyle of today.  Those moments make the darkness more bearable.

A final note: if you think you recognize the plot of this movie, you’re probably right. It is loosely based on a novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle called Le feu follet (“The fire within“), and Louis Malle made a film adaptation of it in 1963 with the same name, although that version took place in Paris, not Oslo, and the addiction in question was alcohol, not heroin.

Since I haven’t watched Mallet’s version, I can’t say how this one holds up against it.

All I can say is that I thought Oslo, August 31st was brilliant, provided that you can cope with some dark content and the frustration that the Anders may cause you.

Oslo, August 31st (Oslo, 31. august Joachim Trier, NO, 2011) My rating: 4,5/5

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