Norway’s hot streak (“Headhunters” and “Turn Me On, Dammit,” at the moment) continues with the release of “Oslo, August 31st,” a drama that chronicles a fateful day in the life of a recovering addict.
Hell eclipses hope in this story, but a total downer it isn’t. Writer- director Joachim Trier makes the bleakness exquisite and the struggle quietly electric.
Trier, whose debut feature was the impressive writer-buddy tale “Reprise,” displays similar adeptness at the wheel and life-embracing vibes, but with a more downbeat tone and a linear plot line, in this story freely adapted from a 1931 novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.
“Reprise” costar Anders Danielsen Lie is back, again playing a literary sort who messes up.
Lie portrays Anders, a 34-year-old several-months-clean drug addict with middle-class roots, author ambitions and a self-destructive quality that propels this story in lieu of conventional arcs and twists.
The primary action begins when Anders leaves a countryside rehab facility with a one-day pass and travels to Oslo for a job interview.
In the city, he visits friends, experiences warm memories, and battles temptation and personal demons. Key moments include a conversation with concerned friend Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner); a party where Anders can’t quite connect; an attempted meeting with his sister, who sends a friend in her place; and repeated calls to an ex- girlfriend, who doesn’t phone back.
Voice-overs and conversations well scripted by Trier and cowriter Eskil Vogt inform viewers that Anders’ parents are decent, loving people and that Anders anguishes over the financial and emotional strain his addiction has caused them.
But while he seeks redemption, he constantly sabotages this aim, and desperation sets in.
Notwithstanding some occasional style overload that echoes “Reprise” at its weakest, “Oslo” is an efficiently made, unassumingly gripping film. It triumphs as a dip into the addict psyche, as a precipice- packed personal journey, and as an expression of love for an underappreciated Oslo.
Trier has a bent for the bleak, and his naturalistic style contains a compelling undercurrent. And if, a la “Shame” director Steve McQueen, his welcome avoidance of sentimentality can make his central character a challenge to access, his lead actor fills in the blanks.
Lie’s Anders is a multidimensional protagonist with a stirring subsurface unease. Whether struggling to be part of the social flow or dooming his chances for success (his job-interview performance alone is ticket-worthy), he is captivatingly human.
“I like the idea of taking something dark and making something beautiful,” Trier says in his official comments. This movie substantiates those sentiments.
Oslo, August 31st: *** 1/2
Written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier
Directed by Joachim Trier
Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes