Joachim Trier | Interview
Oslo, August 31st is a great mid-30s movie—about a drug addict.
A 34-year-old man returns home to Oslo. He has a job interview: Once a talented journalist, he carries a faint hope of returning to writing. He meets up with an old friend, who’s now a parent of two. He calls up an ex-girlfriend in the States, eager for a sympathetic ear.
The twist in Oslo, August 31st, the sophomore feature from Joachim Trier, is that Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is a recovering drug addict, caught in a fragile state and surrounded by friends who in the abstract want to help him, but who have long since passed him by. Some are hurting from the wounds he caused them during the height of his illness; others simply can’t connect with him anymore. The key to Trier’s new film—which recently concluded a run at the Gene Siskel Film Center and is available on streaming services this week—is that it’s rooted in the broader experience of aging and thirtysomething anxiety. It’s about friends who drift apart—an especially painful prospect in Anders’s case, since he’s spent the last six years not going anywhere.
“I wanted to use the context of an ex-addict as more of a backdrop or a metaphor for a crisis in life that we could all relate to,” Trier told me at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “I also wanted to avoid the stereotypical drug addict, which is very often a sort of social-psychological case study of someone who’s a victim. This person’s a victim of himself, in a way. He’s had choices, he’s charming, he’s got friends—seemingly.”
Although the film is inspired by the Pierre Drieu la Rochelle novel that served as the basis of Louis Malle’s The Fire Within, Trier says it’s an extremely loose adaptation—and carries tinges of autobiography. The director notes he was an avid skater before he attended film school in London. When he returned home, the skating scene—and the people within it—had changed. “I started seeing that my friends went in very different directions,” Trier says. “Some of them are still today very successful in what they’re doing in their life. Others have ended up being drug addicts.”
While the film follows one day in Anders’s travails—the character is almost never offscreen—it’s important to Trier that it convey the conflicted feelings of those who interact with him. “I think the hardest and most interesting drama is created when you’re not doing it with antagonists,” Trier says. “No one wants to do bad. They all want to try to do good, but it just doesn’t work.”
In life, Trier’s star, who also appeared in the filmmaker’s 2006 Reprise, suffers from no such neglect: He’s a trained surgeon, and Trier claims Lie may never act again—despite being given matinee-idol treatment by the Norwegian Elle.
“We had a situation where he was at the time working at a clinic with a free STD station for teenagers,” Trier says. “So you’d have, like, young girls come in with a very personal problem that they secretly wanted to share with a doctor—and there he would be, the most sexy man in Elle, Anders Danielsen Lie.”
For his part, Trier is taking a step toward the mainstream and away from his homeland. He had just finished a screenplay set in upstate New York. “It reminds me a bit of Scandinavia, for some reason,” he says.
Oslo, August 31st arrives on Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix Watch Instantly, VUDU and DVD Tuesday 18.