Saturday, February 09, 2013

Potential Buried Treasure: Oslo, August 31st

It probably marks me as a bad member of the organization, but I almost never vote for the Chlotrudis Awards' Buried Treasure award. You have to see all five of the nominated movies (or, in years with six, five of six), and ever since seeing Chicago solely because it was nominated for a bunch of Oscars, I've tried to avoid seeing movies as a matter of obligation. That movie was probably not as terrible as it seemed to me, but laying out money when you're not really enthused about that thing specifically certainly makes it seem worse.

I've been able to justify it to myself somewhat because I honestly don't care who wins awards. I tend to think that the value of awards is less in actually naming one movie or performance or book or song or whatever the best of the year than in creating a reason to shine a bright light on the nominees. A list of several noteworthy things is useful, but can quickly be forgotten. Make it a competition, though, and people start talking, and there's also a window during which people will make an extra effort to check the nominees out, and that's good for everything.

So, I don't really care who wins other than being disgusted when it's something that clearly didn't belong on the list of nominations in the first place. But, this year, one of the nominees for Buried Treasure is my suggestion, getting on there despite my being the only one to see it, and it's the most difficult for the voters to see. It probably won't get close to winning - I can very easily see it being the sixth for people seeing five out of six - but I'd rather not seem a complete hypocrite later on when folks say they went out of their way or spent some money to see it and I say, yeah, I didn't bother with the award after that.

So, now I'm up to 2/6, and kind of wondering if others whose horses are in this race (so to speak) find themselves approaching it the same way I am - basically, the other nominees have to knock the one I already decided should win off. The other categories work that way too, though not as starkly, and I find that it certainly feels less fair than choosing one after having seen them all, even if I generally trust my judgement well enough to think I'll choose the right thing for the right reason.

Anyway, that's enough of that. One thing I noticed that wasn't really germane to the review was that it seemed to stay light out pretty late during this movie - the characters didn't seem to be under artificial lights when they noted it had passed midnight. I didn't think Oslo was far north enough to have midnight sun in any case, and August 31st is much closer to an equinox than a solstice anyway, so that shouldn't be a big deal in any case. That's a minor thing, though; I've got another, rather spoilery question about the end and structure of the movie that I've put after the review link.

Oslo, August 31st

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Some of the Best of 2012, 35mm)

Oslo, October 31st starts out with various off-screen voices describing their memories of the city in question, and even when the imagery that goes with those memories is of something like a building being brought down, it's vibrant and alive. When it's first seen in the present, through the eyes of the main character, though, it's all motionless construction equipment. It's time to rebuild after the implosion, but how to do that may take some consideration.

The man who needs to rebuild is Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), who has spent a fair amount of time in a rehabilitation facility for his drug addiction; he's been given a pass to go into the city for a job interview. That's not until later in the day, though, so in the mean time, he might as well visit some people - an old friend, his sister, maybe a few others as one name leads to another - and the family home. Of course, it's impossible to forget that this is where Anders lived as he succumbed to his demons the first time.

The very name of this movie gives it bounds; it's not going to move far from that time and that place. What's interesting, though, is that co-writer/director Joachim Trier never makes those implied limits feel close or to give them undue importance to the characters within the movie. The extent to which there is not a ticking clock is almost shocking; Trier spends most of the first third of the movie on a conversation between two characters that kicks themes around but doesn't really push Anders through the story, and the time of day or how long it is until Anders is expected back is almost irrelevant in each particular scene. If Trier is making points via where in Oslo each segment takes place, it's not immediately obvious to this non-Norwegian. And yet, as much as the story seems to be contained by its title, there's also a sense that the environment and the passage of time is affecting Anders; it's important without being overtly so.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

OK, you were warned up top, but SPOILERS!

I feel stupid even asking this question, but the opening scenes of the movie (after all the Anders-less memories of Oslo) actually come last chronologically, right? I base this mainly off the idea that when Anders tries to commit suicide by walking into the pond with rocks in his pockets, he backs out by shedding his coat and leaving it at the bottom of the pond, which means he either has multiple similar coats or that this takes place after he wears that coat throughout the rest of the movie.

I want it to be that way, because I'm basically an optimist, and that means that after he relapses, he despairingly tries to kill himself, but ultimately decides he wants to live, and maybe that's the decision that will stick going forward. If the whole movie is chronological, then it's just an industrial-powered downer - the suicide attempt is followed by him going out into a situation he's clearly not prepared to handle, and the trip to his dealer and eventual fall off the wagon are inevitable. And since one of the later revelations in the movie is that most of the action actually takes place on the 30th, that makes what happens in the wee hours and morning of the 31st more important and definitive, whether it be backsliding for good or bottoming out and finally starting the real climb out of the pit.

I think the repeated shots at the end tend to support the idea that those first scenes come last, although the girl in his bed at the start suggests otherwise. I also think that Trier created this ambiguity very carefully and deliberately, and not just because ambiguity and downer endings are often considered sophisticated. Structuring the movie that way emphasizes how this sort of addiction is a repeating cycle, almost a loop that someone gets stuck in. That the movie ends on a series of shots very close to those at the beginning suggests such a thing, but introducing what looked like inconsistencies so that that scene can be approached in both directions - well, that almost makes the whole movie into a moebius strip, with an almost science-fictional time loop that is going to take some extra effort to break out of.

Or, I'm looking so closely at it that I'm missing something really obvious that says I'm full of crap. Can't dismiss that as a possibility.


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