Review of Oslo, August 31st

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A young recovering drug addict takes a brief leave from his treatment center to interview for a job and catch up with old friends in Oslo, Norway.
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Movie Review: "Oslo, August 31st"

Rating: Not Rated
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: August 31, 2011
Directed by: Joachim Trier
Genre: Drama

-- "Oslo, August 31st" is a Norwegian film that focuses on the challenges of staying sober. Starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner and Ingrid Olava, the story follows a recovering addict as he deals with the reality of the world outside of rehab. Although the movie is in Norwegian and subtitled in English, the story and emotional depth shine through.

The story centers on Anders (played by Danielsen Lie), who is an addict that is close to the end of his recovery program. He gets out of his rehabilitation center for a day so he can attend a job interview in Oslo. Viewers follow his every move as he experiences his city without the influence of drugs or alcohol. On the surface, the plot is simple, but the emotional drama and true complexity of the character's struggle adds an undeniable touch of suspense.

Once an up-and-coming writer, Anders must face the fact that his addiction has damaged every good thing in his life, including his family, his career and his relationships. As he walks through Oslo, he is faced with one choice after another, and is constantly haunted by the threat of relapse. From memories of a failed suicide attempt to flashbacks of his lost love, audience members experience his emotions firsthand.

Lie shines as the melancholy Anders, who is balanced on the precipice between treatment and the real world. His performance is understated but deep, and his considerable acting abilities allow viewers to observe his emotions. English-speaking viewers may be initially turned off by the need to read subtitles, but the discomfort soon fades away as Lie's facial expressions and physical bearing take center stage. The actor perfectly captures the struggle that addicts face as they re-enter the world without the aid of addictive substances.

Many movies in the recovery genre have a similar feeling, but "Oslo, August 31st" manages to avoid the pitfalls that trap many of them. Overcoming addiction is difficult, and this movie confronts that bleak reality. Unlike some recovery movies, "Oslo, August 31st" does not make the process of getting sober seem easier than it really is. Instead, it embraces the experience and doesn't hesitate to explore the darkest corners of an addict's mind. Yet, despite the darkness, the movie manages to maintain a sense of vibrancy that drives the story forward and keeps viewers engaged.

Throughout the movie, the question of whether or not Anders will fall back into his old patterns drives the plot. Viewers experience his agony as he revisits his life as an addict and becomes increasingly cognizant of the chasm that separates him from the rest of humanity. Life goes on all around him, but he is trapped in a mental world of fear and regret. The sense of suspense is palpable at times, contrasting with the quiet of the onscreen world. Viewers will find themselves both comforted and unnerved by the depth of emotion in this film.

Inspired by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's 1931 book "Le Feu Follet," "Oslo, August 31st" benefits from director Joachim Trier's casual, approachable style. The camerawork is gentle and realistic, and Trier uses a number of handheld shots. The natural lighting lends visual depth to the story, reflecting the dark and light aspects of the lead character's mind. The movie's aesthetics, which create a gentle feeling that doesn't venture too far into dark and dim locations, are perfectly suited to the story.

The supporting cast provides an unexpected complement to Lie's performance as Anders. Hans Olav Brenner plays Anders' old friend Thomas. Thomas is the only bridge Anders has between his old and new lives-the friend who has escaped his own demons and found a comfortable, middle-class life of his own. Where Anders is struggling to find meaning in his life and is holding on to the importance of staying sober, Thomas is nostalgic for the good old days. Brenner's performance is brash and nuanced, and his energy offers an ideal balance for Lie's character's unnerving calm. Together, the two represent some of the paths that could be taken by young men who get too far into the world of drugs and alcohol.

Overall, "Oslo, August 31st" is a captivating, entertaining movie. The actors portray their characters with admirable restraint, allowing emotion to shine through without falling prey to the stereotypes of addiction and recovery. The film is dark but ultimately hopeful, and gives viewers insight into the journey a heroin addict must undergo to find relief and healing. Although it is not suitable for young children, adults will enjoy the film's exploration of the human psyche.

Rating: 3 out of 5