Oslo, August 31st – Terminus
A young 34-year-old man walks across a town made from insulated sounds and images that linger at the corner of one’s eye, waiting for the right moment to assault him from every single direction. The character’s subjectivity is, more or less – as Andrei Gorzo notes –, playing games on him, taking several liberties: a muddled visual field here, a man whom we thought we were following getting increasingly faraway there, wrapped up in an incandescent voice over. It is precisely because our man, Anders, is a revenant who, after a long absence, needs to recalibrate his perception to grasp the Procrustes-like nature of the world: having left the clinic where he had been enrolled in a detox program, Anders returns to Oslo, under the pretext of a job interview. However, this seemingly uneventful day will have far-reaching consequences.
It’s quite clear that Anders is haunted by suicidal thoughts: in the beginning, we see him taking a stone in his arms and floating down into the depths of a lake, then coming back up to the surface, barely. It’s not as much a mission as it is a plan that could be tried out – and it might be so that the film’s most haunting moments arise exactly when Anders is seemingly back on the track of a normal life. The film’s crux seemingly lies in the sinuous way in which Anders seems to be sabotaging his own premeditated plan – that of an irreproachable stage exit – a fact which leads viewers to constantly reconfigure their own expectations, again and again. Sometimes, Anders desperately and ingenuously clings onto the lifeline that his past life offers him: old friends, his ex-partner, his lust for partying until daybreak; other times, he seems more than ready to permanently cease everything that has to do with life, as if he would be whispering that this is the “final stop, all passengers please step down”.
And that is because Anders isn’t giving much of himself, forcing us to dig beyond his smirk. That is where we can discover a fury that is boiling over into resentment, a rage aimed at the bullshit that has wrecked the lives of his bourgeois buddies, at the blah-blah of an individualistic society, at cardboard-cut-out fears and at the condescending gazes that follow his every step. One must look at all of these impossible situations in which Anders’s friends, while trying to offer him compassion and gentleness, end by getting caught up in a sort of uneasy sense of guilt. In other words, the film’s main idea is that Anders is beyond help and that, ultimately, this is nobody’s fault. If Anders, a privileged young man, simply kicked away every chance that he came across and that, from one point onwards, he set himself down a path of no return, abetted by the mirage of drugs, nobody’s at fault (not even him). Again, if his friends’ lives were able to go on – most of them are now married, some have even become parents – while Anders’ life is in stasis, nobody’s at fault. On the one hand, here, the film takes one of the cruel laws of modern cinema to its final endgame, one which Serge Daney summarizes as the „non-assistance towards a person in danger”. On the other hand, through director Joachim Trier’s insistence on portraying Oslo as a town that is brimming with parallel lives and alternative routes, the film faces us with the mirror of a world that is desirable. In this tension that arises between the forceful benevolence of others and the personal reckoning with bad decisions lies the film’s sheer force, one that is as logical as a bright day in August.
Trier’s intuition tells him that he needs an actor capable of shouldering the weight of these irreconcilable worlds. Problem solved: Anders Danielsen Lie, who, in one of the decade’s most striking roles, imposes his sad and startling smile amongst the gallery of faces that one would like to rewatch. Which does end up happening in Ce sentiment de l’été, melancholic Mikhaël Hers’ vaporous film. (That Paul Greengrass would then choose Danielsen Lie to depict the neo-Nazi terrorist Anders Breivik is simply astonishing: it should be quite elementary that 22 July and Oslo, August 31st are separated by a chasm that has nothing to do with the calendar.) Danielsen Lie accompanies his character with the discretion of a genial performer, who knows how to signal shifts or to force himself upon other characters, with one sole stated goal in mind: to endlessly prolong the moment of day turning into night, while sunrise is the fatal destination that must be pushed back at any cost.
In a very good and thorough critical study of the film, Ionuț Mareș discusses the importance that the town plays within Trier’s project. The director’s real talent at playing with lightning and faded nuances across 24 Norwegian hours must be underlined. This is the source of the film’s formal suppleness, a film capable of transitioning from the suffocating atmosphere of a bar to the harsh air of the street in one simple editing trick, from the daytime’s pedantic discussions to the neon bustle of the night. Since when have we last felt such a gust of liberation in a Scandinavian film, one that would so freely take on the city’s inner being, that would respect its inner rhythm so well? In the magical sequence in which four young men ride across the empty town at midnight, propped up on two bikes, we might find the simplest definition of happiness. And when the four, right before dawn, end up in a pool that seems to be there only for them, we’re already perfectly convinced that this film is alive – ecstatically so. And so, this is why the sensation of a perfect execution never leaves one until the very end of this virtuous shot of Anders, finally back at his parents’ home, as he plays the piano for a long while: from now on, and maybe for the first time, he has all the time in the world.
Oslo, August 31st (2011) is currently available on MUBI.