Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) reconnects with an old friend in Oslo, August 31st.
Throughout Joaquim Trier's mesmerizing sophomore feature, Oslo, August 31st, a recovering drug addict (played brilliantly by Anders Danielsen Lie) visits friends and family members—the most important people in his life—while on leave from rehab for a day in search of an avenue to start anew. Ironically, it's someone he's hardly acquainted with, someone with whom he exchanges words about a former lover, that perfectly encapsulates his plight and helps us put the film in context:
"This isn't about your addiction."
As much as Oslo, August 31st talks about the struggles to overcome one's demons and the stigma people like our lead character—Anders—carry, it's much more personal than universal. Yes, Trier bleakly and intimately lays into us the idea that addiction isn't a characteristic exclusive to the homeless, jobless, family-less lower class. But the bigger takeaway relates specifically to Anders' case.
It's arguably more hopeless because he's squandered a keen intellect and a generally supportive network around him, and he knows it. The reason he's granted a day away from his rehabilitation facility is to interview for an editorial assistant job at an Oslo publication. He actually impresses the interviewer, but when pressed about what he's been doing the last few years of his life, Anders freaks out and leaves. He stops by a friend's house for breakfast, and though the two have plenty to say to each other, Anders' heart isn't in the conversation.
Another key encounter happens late in the film when Anders crashes a party at an ex-girlfriend's house. They have a moment together, but Anders realizes shortly thereafter that he was grasping at straws. Not long thereafter, you'll realize where Oslo, August 31st is heading, and it's a place Anders might have had on his mind for quite some time.
The film is straightforward and subtle, and though it clocks in at under two hours, it feels longer. Trier lets his camera linger on moments, encounters, and conversations longer than one might expect, but it's all done to develop both a connection with Anders and this sense of somber uneasiness that, more than anything else, propels the film forward.
As you might expect from a statement like that, Oslo, August 31st isn't exactly a happy movie, but it's powerful and it derives that emotional power naturally, without resorting to manipulation. If you caught Trier's debut—2006's Reprise—you'll definitely buy what he's selling here. If you missed that film, you're in store for an awesome Norwegian double feature sometime soon.