Day 31: Oslo, August 31st (2011)

We reach the end of the road with this poignant, slow-moving and very personal tale of Anders, a recovering drug addict who is about to emerge from a term of rehab. Aptly enough in a month of film (which stretched out to a year), it’s a story about journeys, of making sense of relationships, and trying to find your place in the world.

As the title suggests, the city of Oslo plays a prominent part in the film, providing a backdrop for Anders’ journey home, his attempts to confront the past and come to terms with his future. Given a day release from his treatment centre for a promising job interview, Anders takes the opportunity to call on a number of old friends. Ranging from a sympathetic old school-friend with a seemingly idyllic family life, to an old girlfriend traumatised at hitting 30, his encounters chip away at the facade of his generation’s societal ambitions and expectations.

In terms of structure and plot, it resembles 25th Hour in its depiction of a man trying to re-connect with his life. In both cases, there is a strict time limit for this journey of re-discovery, but the sentences are entirely of their own making. Oslo is less heavy-handed in its symbolism; this is not a state-of-the-nation type allegory; it exists on a much more personal level, while still undermining the aspirations and pretensions of the cultured middle-class. The men are either trapped in a sexless marriage, or having it off with girls ten years their junior, while the women are either struggling to conceive, or noticeable in their absence (his ex-girlfriend doesn’t answer his calls; his sister removes herself from his problems).

It also reminds me of The Swimmer, a 1968 film starring Burt Lancaster as a character who swims his way back home through the back gardens of his affluent neighbours. Starting off with all friendliness and smiles, people become increasingly more hostile the closer he gets to home, indicating a dark secret that gradually bubbles its way to the surface. Water is a recurring image in Oslo, as Anders tries to drown himself in the opening scene, then ends up in a public water park with a group of shallow friends. To quote Stevie Smith, he is “not waving, but drowning” in his over-riding sense of depression. Far from cleansing his sins, the water only seems to weigh him down further. He succumbs to alcoholic temptation after ten months dry. Water turns into wine, which turns into gin, which turns into heroin, and it all goes to pot.

With a quietly powerful central performance, the film challenges the social structures that allow talented, intelligent people to fall through the cracks, while never fully absolving Anders from his own, personal responsibility for his predicament. But in a bustling capital city, full of his childhood friends, he spends most of his time alone, walking the streets, or sitting in cafes listening to other people’s lives happening around him. Like Maya in Zero Dark Thirtyhe ends the film framed in a doorway, returning home but utterly alone. In this instance he chooses to draw the curtains, electing to spend his final moments looking inwards, shutting out the world one last time.

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