Joachim Trier made one of my favorite little-seen foreign films in 2006, a dramatically rich and intense Norwegian film of mental illness and friendship called "REPRISE". Saw it twice, in fact. It was Trier's first film, and it took a while to be seen and then to be distributed in the United States. Outside of the awful phony comedy-punk band who make a quick couple of appearances in it, "Reprise" is a sledgehammer of an emotional head trip, and I recommend it highly. Trier's second film is "OSLO, AUGUST 31st", and it was quite a bit easier to see than his last one, which was a film festival thing with a token blink-you-missed-it 1-week run in big cities. I watched it on Netflix, in fact, and you can too.
Anders Danielsen Lie, who was so terrific as the coming-unglued writer in "Reprise", has 100% screen time in this one. He's a handsome, vaguely threatening-looking guy who plays nice but unhinged men very well. The film takes place over 24 hours or so, with an early opening scene of Anders (his eponymous character) silently attempting suicide with the 'ol rocks-in-the-pockets while you jump in a lake trick. It doesn't work, and it's never referred to again except for in a very clever and jarring visual montage that ends the film. Anders is staying in a detox center outside of Oslo after 8 months of being sober from heroin and all the other intoxicant demons that have fed the majority of his youth (he's assumed to be in his early 30s here). He gets a pass from the center into the city for a job interview, full freedom for a guy not used to it or even wanting it. Self-sabatoge and pathos await.
Anders is unfortunately a shattered man. We get a sense that he was once happy and in love, and that Oslo, rather than representing demons and temptation, was a place of possibility for him and his youth cohort. His self-confidence has taken a huge blow, with the love of his life having left him during the ravages of stealing and lies that accompanied his heroin use, and is now living in New York. So even when Anders interviews for his literary magazine job, and proves himself to be intelligent and well-read, he admits to having been an addict and walks out – even though it's clear that the editor probably doesn't care all that much. Anders has a large collection of "missing years" in his life history, so whenever he turns up around old Oslo friends or enemies, it's obvious that he's still painfully reckoning with those years inside himself, even if they've moved on.
The pressure of being in Oslo, alone and miserable, leads Anders to break. We're not entirely sure until the very end of the film if he's really going to – there's an element of him that seems strong, and fit, and despite his torment, able to somehow withstand the psychic pain. That final shot I referred to is pretty cool – it's places we've visited in the film with Anders, which are shown in the here and now without him as he self-immolates. On the whole, I'd call this a very worthy successor to "Reprise" and a signal that thirtysomething Trier is going to be one of our more interesting and inventive filmmakers for some time to come.