Joachim Trier's second feature, Oslo, August 31'st is a day in the life of young Anders (played in a great turn by Anders Danielsen Lie), an affable and seemingly nice young man, who happens to be a recovering junkie, day pass from the rehab program he is a resident in. Out to apply for a job, we follow Anders as he reconnects with friends, a part in working his recovery steps, and avoids the temptations of freedom, even just for the one day.
Oslo, August 31'st is an almost sombre character study, and reflects the controlled calm that an addict like Anders needs to embrace and embody to make it through treatment without falling off the wagon. Director Trier has fashioned a film that never devolves into tawdry pulp like a lot of movies that feature junkie characters do. This is not the gritty world of Hubert Selby, this is the problem behind the door of the upper middle class, and one of the more realistic portrayals of recovery on-screen in recent years.
Joachim Trier was kind enough to share a few words with ScreenAnarchy about his film,
TWITCH - Oslo, August 31'st is based on the 1931 novel Le feu follet, and was adpated in 1963 as The Fire Within by Louis Malle. What drew you to the novel, and how did you go abput updating it and making it your own?
JOACHIM TRIER (JT) - I saw Malle's film first actually. I'm a big film buff, watched a lot of French films from the 60's, but for some reason I had missed this one, and I'm kind of happy about that. I watched this one a few years ago, when I was at a stage of my life when I reached my 30's, and was feeling a little lost afer a break-up. Then I saw The Fire Within and thought "that is one of the greatest portaryals of loneliness I have seen in any movie." It really touched me. Then I read the book, and a few years later we had this opportunity to make a film, there was some money around and we wanted to do something really quick, and I thought "Well, why don't we try this basic structure". We can take this story, set it Oslo today, and maybe we don't need much more of an idea than this characater kind of being this hip, cool, middle class guy with a lot of choices, who has just wasted a lot of time in his life partying. Maybe we can just use characters we know ourselves form our environment, or that we'd imagine in oslo today. So we went from there, the timelessness of the story triggered us to be even more personal.
TWITCH - slo, August 31'st was very un-sensationalistic in it's portrayal of Anders, and his drug problems.I was curious, never having travelled abroad (I am in the United States) but I have grappled with addiction myself, and known a junkie or two, does the cultural differnce breed a different type of junkie? O
JT - People should see the film and ask that question. In a way I feel addiction is really about the individual. more even so than the national specifics, but there are some shared things we are exploring there. These are things I think that non-addicts can also identify with. A certain type of identity crises, feeling, you know, that those sort of existential crises like you've lost your job and you don't know what the hell you are doing with your life, I think we all encounter that in some way or another. But, am I sure there are also specifics. In Norway, heroin is a big thing, I've never had specific problems myself but I have been close to people in that situation, and there is certainly a Norwegian version of this you see in the story. The character of Anders is kind of a hipster drug addict, you know, but it's an urban thing I think. people think Norway is all about mountaineering and stuff.
TWITCH - ...and black metal kids in corpse paint.
JT - Ha! Yeah yeah! You know I respect black metal, it's very specific. They are trying to really express something there. But yes I'd love to get feedback from viewers around the globe as to how universal or how specific these elements of Oslo struck them, for sure. A good question and very difficult to answer. You tell me.
TWITCH - There is a scene where Anders is visiting his close friend, a young-ish writer with a wife and a little daughter. The little daughter comes in to show her Daddy a picture she drew of a troll, and he points to Anders and says "You know Uncle Anders used to be a drug troll" and I wondered, again to ask a question about cultural specifity, is that the basic outlook in Norway? Drugs are here, let's be honest from the jump, even with our tiny ones?
JT - I think it's that character, and he's trying to bond with his old buddy and kind of saying "Look, I'm in this place now, I have a wife and a kid , and it may seem a little bourgaise but I still have an edge here" and it was his desperate way of trying to crack a joke there, a bad quip.
TWITCH - It's so uncomfortable.
JT - It is. The humor in that scene is kind of a study on Norwegian awkwardness, LOL. Again, I do think there is a ind of openness about discussing drug problems, but I dont know if sollutions are found. A lot of films about drug addiction are, you know, like soical realist portraits. I'm trying make a film about a human being, and his love life, his friendships, all the facets, and his addiction is only one part of that. TWITCH - To echo an interview with you I read for TIFF, the writer who conducted the interview (who I wish I could credit but could find no by-line for) saw OSLO more as a coming of age story, and I thought that was really astute.
JT - That's interesting. You know the film was just released in France, and I did a lot of press there, thankfully it's been well received and we have had good attendence, but almost no one has asked me about the addiction. It's all been about the 30's crises, or it being about the anxiety of not living up to your ambitions , and it really seems from country to country it varies. With US press I get asked more about the addiction aspect, maybe that also says something about the curiosity of that in American culture in the moment. Hmmm...I don't know.
TWITCH - Your lead, Anders Danielsen Lie, who is also the lead in your first film Reprise, is he going to be your usual lead? have you formed a creative team?
JT - I have a new project I am going to shoot in the fall, and he won't be in that, he's actually a doctor in real life. It's kind of puzzling, he's got so many talents. The thing about Anders, I met him doing Reprise, we were casting and saw like a thousand guys, most of them not even actors, I was just simply trying to find people I wanted to film. We met him, and he was funny and smart, and just totally believable as someone who could have actually written a novel by the age of 25 (like in the film) which is very rare, he is very articulate. Anyway, I don't know, we became friends after that. I wrote Oslo, August 31'st for him because I saw it would be a perfect part for him to explore. Anders is very methodical, and prepared when he goes on set. He also changed his physique, he worked out, he gained weight...just all these things to try to kind of figure out this character, almost sculpturally, and mentally. At the same time, in the moment of shooting he is always very open and available for new possibilities and I admire that very, very much.
TWITCH - I know what a huge fan of cinema overall you are, and to ask a goofy question, but one I think is also very telling and has yielded some crazily varied answers, in abject layman's terms I say...do you have fun directing film? Do you get up in the morning with a smile on your face when you are in the midst of shooting?
JT - Oh man, I am very, very, very happy when I am allowed to shoot. I guess a lot of people talk about "talent" or "gift" (laughs) my fortune is that I love being on set, I really love shooting. It happens too rarely, you know with writing and all that (which I love too!) but being on set. Even if everything is shit and it rains when the sun should shine, or it's a difficult day and a struggle, I don't let it get to me too much, because I just love to shoot. Anders is the same way. he had a really tough time in his trailer, staying in his trailer, away from the other actors, to stay in this mode, to make this one day in this characters life absolutely believable. He sure had a hard time, but I fell he was very successful. At the ned of the day, if you are an actor or a director, and this will sound corny but, there's a sense of masochism to it you know? (laughs) It dulls the pain! This film in a sense proves that for Anders too. So tough work, but man yes yes, big smile. TWITCH - What is the challenge of making a film that takes place in a 24 hour time period?
JT - The weather!
TWITCH - Oh man, I bet.
JT - Oh my god man, easily! We were shooting into the fall, we put all our interior shots at the end of the schedule, and the day we got indoors it started raining. So I was incredibly happy we got all those wonderful colors, with the leaves changing colors, and a very specific light situation, that time of year in Scandinavia is beautiful. We were fortunate with that. Then of course there are dramatic challenges. It's liberating to shoot something that takes place within 24 hours, because you know that that is going to be your story, but making it equally exciting from moment to moment? That's challenging. I learned a lot from making Oslo.
Oslo August 31'st opens on screens in the US this Friday, May 25'th, so be sure to check your local listings!