'Oslo, August 31st': Taking addiction one day at a time
A movie review of "Oslo, August 31st," an intimately effective Norwegian drama that follows a recovering heroin addict during a day pass from rehab as he psychologically struggles to avoid a relapse.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Oslo, August 31st,' with Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava. Directed by Joachim Trier, from a screenplay by Trier and Eskil Vogt, loosely based on the novel "Le feu follet" by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains mild language and brief drug use). In Norwegian with English subtitles. Sundance Cinemas.
Addiction is such an internal experience that it's difficult to dramatize without resorting to shock value and sordid junkie stereotypes.
It's been done well in the past, in such acclaimed films as "Sid & Nancy" (1986) and "Requiem for a Dream" (2000); and earlier films like "The Lost Weekend" (1945) and "The Man with the Golden Arm" (1955) handled the subject of addiction (to alcohol and heroin, respectively) with groundbreaking realism.
With subtle efficiency, the intimate Norwegian drama "Oslo, August 31st" takes a different approach, showing how even the most well-meaning addict is constantly vulnerable to relapse.
At 34, and suicidally uncertain about his future, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is two weeks away from finishing his latest stint in rehab. He's been granted a day pass to visit friends in Oslo and show up for a promising job interview; both occasions provide harsh reminders that he'd been stuck in heroin-induced oblivion for the past five years.
With his angular features and intense gaze, Lie is utterly convincing as an intellectual in the process of repairing his damaged life. Anders is a good man who'd fallen into a trap of his own making, but he's got a solid shot at recovery if his willpower remains stronger than the nagging desire for a fix.
"Oslo, August 31st" follows Anders on the titular date (the final day of Norwegian summer), and director Joachim Trier expertly navigates the emotional minefield that constantly threatens Anders' road to recovery.
Loosely based on the 1931 French novel "Le feu follet" and previously filmed by Louis Malle as "The Fire Within" (1963), Trier's film earns favorable comparison to Olivier Assayas' excellent 2004 drama "Clean," which centered on a similarly challenging role for Maggie Cheung. Both films offer compassionate opportunities to understand a struggle that most of us will never have to endure.