Oslo August 31st is an intelligent, mature and powerful film about Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a recovering drug addict coming to the end of his rehabilitation programme.
As Anders returns to Oslo for one night, just two weeks before his programme finishes, he is propelled to visit former friend Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner), who intellectualises with him on the meaning of life and survival. Anders attempts to reunite with his sister before embarking on an evening with old friends, a party, a drink, a club and a successive attempt to find love. It is an utterly compelling film that will leave an imprint as big as the questions that it raises. i-D online sat down with the director, Joachim Trier, fresh from the screening at the BFI London Film Festival.
You made Oslo August 31st as you were waiting for another project to happen. Could you talk a bit about how the film came about? After I made my first feature film Reprise, it was a hit in 30 countries with Mirimax distributing it so I ended up reading about 70 scripts and getting a lot of offers with great actors attached. That’s all very nice, but I actually spent a couple of years travelling with that film and thinking abstractly about stuff when I really needed to sit down and write. I have a lot of stories I want to get out. I finally got time with my co-writer and we sat down and wrote an American script, Louder Than Bombs, which we’re hoping to film next year, but the casting process takes time and suddenly it had been four years and I hadn’t made a movie. I aspire as a director to find a rhythm, I admire directors like Woody Allen who can do a film a year. We got an opportunity with the Norwegian Film Institute, with a medium budget, and we thought ok let’s do it in a year. That brought about a more spontaneous, creative process, where we had the film almost funded before the script was finished, so we could actually create a script where it had dialogue and dramaturgy, but there were also a few scenes where I could be more open and explore, as Renoir said, to “Keep a door open on set and see what happens.”
Oslo August 31st deals with a profoundly middle class experience. Could you talk about your fascination with this? I think there is a double chain in being from a place in life where, in terms of background, you have choices and not only if you’re a failure have you failed, but you have also failed within the context of having had all these opportunities. I have seen people go down that path and I was interested in an outsider’s point of view from the inside. Anders is a popular guy, he has friends and people around him who think he’s cool, he’s seemingly quite successful, but he’s unable to connect with the people around him, and after a long spell of drug abuse and recently coming out of rehab, there’s a vulnerability to him. I was wondering, is there truth in that view on that middle class reality that surrounds him? I wanted all the details, all the drug details. I had old friends of mine come and share all their experiences with me for this process, but even though these details needed to be correct, it’s not a film necessarily about drug abuse; I was interested in this as a prism to show an environment that I think a lot of people can connect to and somehow to explore a certain kind of loneliness that I’ve seen arise in people’s lives. Somehow you need to find a way to compromise on having an ok life, and Anders has a self-destructive integrity in a way, he’s still a dreamer. Either it’s great or it’s nothing. I thought it was interesting to explore that kind of character.
Which directors have influenced you the most? There are so many. Andrei Tarkovsky, Woody Allen, there is such a spectrum. What I’m most interested in is filmmakers who have a sense of humanism or character, and also a sense of the visual, of the craft and mise-en-scene. To combine these two, that’s my ideal. It’s the spirit of the filmmakers that I find inspiring. For this film, there’s an aspect of Bresson and Antonioni also, that school of trying to find a precise observational position as a director, without being too much about all the effects and trying to be smart about sound.
What’s next for you? Oslo August 31st is coming out in the UK November 4th, and it’s also being released in places where i-D is read like Stockholm late November, Copenhagen late October, etc. The next project is Louder Than Bombs, it’s a kind of melancholic but also humorous family drama. I think I found a different form, a different approach to it, it’s more polyphonic, many characters and many time layers. We’re hoping to shoot that next year and I’m also working on a Norwegian project, so hopefully one American, one Norwegian project in the next few years and my rhythm will pick up pace, fingers crossed.
Oslo August 31st is released in the UK today.
Text: Joe Cohen