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Sad and beautiful can be made new, but it’s never out of style.

Oslo, 31 August is something of modern adaptation of Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet, with director Joachim Trier really finding the vein as he takes on the last journey of a recovering addict, Anders. Much like in Malle’s film, we find that Anders has already decided what he must do with his life, and how he must deal with his addiction. First, though, he stops to see a few old friends and visit some of the sites of his former life in Oslo. The result is bleak, but not without meaning, and we are invited to see that, despite the certain end.

Part of what makes the film great, besides the fact that the screenplay pulls absolutely no punches, is that it’s an incredible testament to the exploitation of space in cinema. Anders is frequently walking across the spaces of Oslo, entering into public areas and leaving them, traversing the barriers that are both real and imagined. Likewise there is very little use of music, and most times the music that is used is linked to the scene itself. Instead we have the ambient noise of the spaces, people’s conversations, air. All this space gives the emotions of the film room to breathe, especially in the first major segments. When the shots get tighter, filled with bodies and shadows, and music crowds the soundtrack, this is something we feel as a contrast that we’ve built to. The result is magnificent. In a quiet scene where the characters coast through the dead of night on bicycles, I was so primed for the moment that when the brief punctuation of a fire extinguisher burst into the shot (and soundtrack) I said an audible “fuck” under my breath, because it was that good.

There were some wonderful narrative tricks too, blending times, following nameless characters into their own banalities for just a few shots, things that I’m not finding the words to describe adequately at the moment. I’m still dazzled by the dust motes in an early shot where Anders is ringing the bell outside his friend Thomas’ apartment.

In sum, don’t watch this when you’re not ready for a beautiful downer. But do watch it when you are. And join me in hoping that Joachim Trier will go on to make more films as good as this one.

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