Monday, October 10, 2011

Oslo, August 31

Joachim Trier

OSLO, AUGUST 31              A-                    
Norway  (96 mi)  2011  d:  Joachim Trier

Joachim Trier is something of a revelation, known for only two feature films, but both have quietly surpassed anyone’s expectations, where REPRISE (2006), released in the U.S. in 2008, made several end of the year Top Ten lists, including my own, seen here at #8:  2008.  Born in Denmark and twice Norway’s skateboard champion during his teens while also making several skateboard videos at the time, Joachim is a cousin of the more internationally known brash Danish director Lars von Trier, whose clownish publicity stunts seem to overshadow the work of this young director who is still in his 30’s.  But make no mistake, on the evidence of these two films, Joachim is the more talented director.  They may not have the ambitious scope and apocalyptic overkill of Lars, but his films are effused with so much intelligence and vitality that they are among the most appealing films anywhere on the planet, which raises the question, who is this guy and why is he flying under the radar?  While REPRISE was an extraordinary depiction of youth rarely seen in films, this may be one of the best films ever made about drug addiction, as it offers a raw and searingly confessional approach to the kind of character transformation needed to make a clean break from addiction, where one rigorously questions one’s own progress through a relentless form of psychological self-examination, where one is constantly questioning whether they are deluding themselves.  This pursuit for some kind of unknown truth is unprecedented, as drugs have always clouded one’s judgments before, and without drugs nothing seems to fit anyone’s idea of clarity, as life is a jumbled mess passing by at an all too accelerated pace, where opportunities are lost and vanished before they ever really have a chance of success.   

Mind you, this isn’t a film that shows crack houses or junkies shooting up, as it refrains from that kind of exhibitionism and bleak miserablism and instead focuses on one man’s internal quest to get clean, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), one of the stars from Trier’s previous film, where it plays out like a journey, almost like a road movie, as we follow the various places he visits in one day of his life.  Opening with stream-of-conscious reflections on the city of Oslo uttered by a series of unnamed persons, all mixed together to form a verbal mosaic of someone’s idea of Oslo.  Not any one of them stand out, but collectively the series of thoughts seem to represent the idea of human brain activity at work, which leads us to Andres sitting in a group therapy session listening to the personal difficulties of other recovering addicts, some of which is heart wrenching testimony, also challenging, openly honest and surprisingly truthful.  Anders has been sober for just under a year and is near the end of his confinement in a drug rehab center, where he is given a pass for a job interview in Oslo.  As he freely walks the city streets, it’s as if he’s revisiting the previous steps of his life, viewing them with a sober eye, dropping in on several friends while also trying futilely to make cell phone contact with his former girlfriend.  Hans Olav Brenner as Thomas is likely Anders best friend, now married, but a man with an intellectual background that Anders apparently shares, so their extended conversations together comprise the film’s best efforts to confront sobriety, as Anders has little faith that he will succeed and feels he is sliding into a regressive state where suicide seems like an acceptable option.  This isn’t lily coated stuff, examining Thomas’s less than ideal marriage as well, but these two men are confronting their personal demons with a kind of intelligence rarely seen in cinema.  Frankly put, this is superb writing and even more fascinating direction that emphasizes the mobile, hand held cinematography of Jakob Ihre.

Trier and his collaborator Eskil Vogt loosely rewrite a semi-autobiographical novel by French Nazi collaborator Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, which has already been adapted by Louis Malle in his equally candid work THE FIRE WITHIN (1963).  Having seen both films, and both are blisteringly honest, Trier’s approach couldn’t be more different, where Malle’s is a downbeat and despairing mood of a former drunk with a quick wit who has “squandered away his youth carousing,” while Trier adds a special emphasis on Anders exploration of the special exhilarations in life, where through a hyperactive visual and sound design Trier allows the audience to share the hypersensualized state of alertness where Anders can overhear several different conversations, or see cars, bikes, trains, or pedestrians moving all around him at once, where his sense of time has shifted and inexplicably the world is spinning at a faster pace without drugs, right alongside the recollections or past memories that are also simultaneously streaming through his head.  It’s a mind shattering experience, yet this is an illustration of the world *without* drugs. Anders job interview is a spectacular example of how sobriety is a double edged sword, where the mood shifts from some brilliantly comedic observations that display his wit and powers of social criticism, yet no one is quicker to render harsh and condemning judgment on an addict’s mistakes than the addict himself.  Sobriety is a slippery slope, where his descent back into his own personal hell couldn’t be more brilliantly realized than as he revisits several bars and underground hangouts, where no one can shoot party sequences with this kind of authority except perhaps the exemplary night club sequences of James Gray, as both are literally bursting with life, where Trier uses music as well as anyone in the business.  This film is an exposé of everything that supposedly matters in life, but seen through the eyes of a man with faltering vision, whose doubts outnumber his beliefs, who’s not in command of his own brilliant mind anymore, as everything is beyond his capacity to accept and understand, where he’s literally drowning throughout the entire picture, shown through a somber and mature lens, feeling at times earth shattering.           

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