Oslo, August 31st (4.75/5):
There’s nothing particularly overwhelming about Oslo, August 31st. Of course, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Rather, Oslo, August 31st is a film that’s deeply entrenched in the moment. The bigger picture continuously lingers off in the distance, but the small, miniscule details of a single day comprise the film’s narrative backbone. The subject of our attention is the fleeting life of Anders (Anders Danielson Lie), a recovering heroin addict embroiled in a battle with his demons in a Oslo rehab center. Anders’ newly regimented life, which is seemingly free of temptation, has him questioning his worth in the future. Suicide appears as one of his solutions, but he can’t quite follow through on it. Despite his personal pessimism, Anders attains a day leave from the rehab center for a job interview on August 30th. Bookending Anders’ employment opportunity are his various adventures through the streets of Oslo, where he determines time has left him buried in the past. Through rigorous and honest discourse, Anders reconciles his past and his future through the faces and places he called upon in his youth. Some of his discussions are unsavory, while others are euphoric and heartbreaking. Ultimately, when August 30th transitions to August 31st, Anders must decide whether his life is worth saving or if he should merely give into time’s unforgiving riptide.
Written and directed by Joachim Trier, Oslo, August 31st is a powerfully contemplative film that, as mentioned before, masterfully moves from moment to moment, breath to breath. Heavily reliant on dialogue and acting, the latter coming from an ensemble that is utterly convincing, Oslo is a genuine film. Trier embeds the film with candidly authentic dialogue. From supportive, but distanced friends to old flames that never dissipated, Anders’ inability to cope with drugs, love and lost dreams, is beautifully dictated through the words that slip off every character’s tongue. Processing the information around him, and ultimately expressing Anders’ turmoil, is actor Anders Danielson Lie, who tiptoes between the mindset of a man stricken with nostalgic optimism and a frightened boy. Lie’s performance gains even more power when Anders’ finds himself displaced in populous locations. He sits alone, listening to the conversations around him. Promising and pleasant, these voices prove to Anders one thing: life has moved on without him. Profoundly intimate moments like this make Oslo, August 31st a hard film to evade. Trier forces us to cherish the miniscule moments of a complicated man, a complicated man who sees his existence shrinking down to seconds in length.
People often say their biggest fear is dying alone. The thought of adventuring to the great beyond without ever being in a loving relationship sounds scary. Yet, what’s more depressing: dying alone or watching the person you love lose their faculties and slowly slip away? Ok. Maybe both are horrendous experiences, but the latter finds itself at the center of writer/director Michael Haneke’s newest film, Amour. Uncompromising as usual, Haneke captures the slow descent of two lovers as their steadfast relationship succumbs to an indifferent illness. Love and patience are tested when Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a string of strokes. Disinterested in being a pitiful vessel, Anne pleads with her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), to keep her out of any form of medical institution. Namely, she intends to avoid a nursing home. Georges lovingly accepts his wife’s demands, bearing the burden of responsibility for her well-being. As Anne’s condition worsens, George’s finds that his impenetrable relationship with Anne begins to strain. Feeling an obligation to the love of his life and her shrinking dignity, Georges begins to isolate Anne and himself from their family, especially their intrusive daughter (Isabelle Huppert). Confined to their Parisian apartment, Georges and Anne face emotional highs and traumatic lows, but through it all, their relationship is an anchor in troubled waters.
Of course, being that this is a Michael Haneke film, there are abrupt and abrasive moments of violence and agony, as well as opaque symbolism that the viewer is left to decipher on their own accord. But, unlike any of his other films, Michael Haneke installs Amour with a surprising level admiration for the human spirit. There are unflinching, and at times tedious, scenes where Georges tends to the medical needs of Anne, but he does so with great conviction and care. The tireless nature of Georges is perfectly articulated by Trintignant’s performance. His emotionally drained face hints that Georges is out of his depth, but an unwavering dedication lifts Georges out of a sea of doubt. Supplementing Trintignant is Emmanuelle Riva as Anne. Riva delivers a physically challenging performance that poignantly searches for life in a woman desperately seeking a way out. Together, Trintignant and Riva make for a captivating couple searching for peace in death. Oddly enough, through love and death’s tango, Haneke surprises us with the very humanity he has questioned throughout his career.