“Oslo, August 31st,” a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier, really knocked me for a loop. It’s an absolutely moving and devastating film, and one of the best looks at addiction you’ll ever see on screen.
A 2011 Cannes sélection and sometime Academy Best Foreign Language Film submission, the film from Trier- who previously made the well-regarded “Reprise,” follows Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a longtime drug addict who’s given a day’s pass for his drug rehab facility to return to Oslo for a job interview.
Throughout the film, which is set over a single 24-hour period, Anders visits various friends and relatives, and we’re given the impression that the protagonist over the years has not only frequently hurt those close to him, but has missed out on their lives.
The film plays out in a series of long scenes, such as Anders’ visit to an old partying buddy-turned-dad, his meeting with sister’s girlfriend (the sister refuses to meet him) and, best of all, a scene in which he overhears the hopes and dreams of a group of coffeeshop patrons. The latter scene is particularly heartbreaking.
The closest American corollary of this film I could think of was Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Get Married” (2008,) which featured a career-best performance from Anne Hathaway as an addict getting out of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. But ‘Oslo’ is even more bleak. There are movies about addiction that go to dark places but are ultimately about triumph over adversity. This is not one of them.
“Oslo August 31st” is following a strange release schedule in the States. It opened in some cities in late summer and continues to play in theaters in some places, and it’s also available on Netflix, both on disc and on Watch-Instant. However you watch it, it’s highly recommended.