When the sad 1931 French novella Le Feu Follet—about a young alcoholic’s final days—eventually found its way into English, the title became Will O’ the Wisp. And they don’t come wispier than 33-year-old actor Anders Danielsen Lie, who commands this modern-day Norwegian adaptation with a junkie’s drawn sense of exhaustion. His stint in rehab nearly concluded (but far from effective), Anders (Lie) makes his way into the capital city for a disastrous job interview at a magazine and, elsewhere, some heartbreaking arguments with old friends who are unprepared for his unflinching cynicism and directness.
Moment to moment, you sense the fragility of Anders’s fate as it hangs in the balance. (Lie’s performance can’t be overpraised.) A sincerely offered compliment about his essay-writing triggers a flicker of old confidence; a hasty sip from a flute of champagne signals a worrying backslide. Organizing the mercurial emotions and tics is director Joachim Trier, making good on the promise of his 2006 feature debut, the lit-related drama Reprise. This one’s even better—it’s about the honesty that often takes root in survivors, a rarely explored subject—but Oslo, August 31st is not an easy film. Gently, unavoidably, we’ll also mention that Trier is a distant cousin of infamous provocateur Lars von Trier, but don’t hold that against him. He’s making the pain count.
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