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"Oslo, August 31st": All the Sad Young Literary Norwegians 

Wednesday, Jun 20 2012
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In just two feature films, writer/director Joachim Trier has proven to be unparalleled in exposing the foibles and delusions of all the sad young literary men. The twentysomething character played by Anders Danielsen Lie in Reprise (2006) finds immediate cult success with his first novel, only to suffer a breakdown shortly afterward. In Oslo, August 31st, Danielsen Lie is a self-described "spoiled brat who fucked up" named Anders, a once-promising writer who has spent the past 10 months at a drug-rehab clinic. The power of both films pivots around a director-actor collaboration that mines emotional chaos without tipping over into mawkishness. Loosely adapted from the same 1931 novel on which Louis Malle's The Fire Within (1963) is based, Trier's film follows the earlier works' template of a suicidal addict revisiting his past over a roughly 24-hour period. In Oslo's opening scenes, Anders fills his pockets with stones in an attempt to drown himself; he fails and then must prepare himself for a job interview in the capital city. Before and after this appointment, Anders drops in unexpectedly on old friends, whose initial facial expressions often register alarm more than delight — a subtle yet potent reminder of how much damage this 34-year-old has done. "Everything will be forgotten. It's sort of a law of nature," Anders tells the college-age woman he spends most of the night with — cynical wisdom that the film strenuously contradicts. As this elegiac movie reminds us, even a shattered life matters, leaving behind an indelible, intricate imprint.

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Melissa Anderson

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