Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Tone B. Mostraum
Director: Joachim Trier
Runtime: 95 min.
Verdict: A plea for voyeurism.
Mr. Trier’s film might make for a rather heart-wrenching double-bill with Mr. Guerin’s In the City of Sylvia. Here’s a film, at last I guess, that understands voyeurism not as a perverse emotion or a disconnected no-stakes erotic luxury, but as the very basic element of our needs, fuelling almost all of our moods and emotions and desires. If one were to describe Mr. Trier’s film as a plea for voyeurism, I might not find any reason to disagree.
At its center is a sequence that causes a rather magnificent riff, both geographically and thereby thematically, on the café setting in Mr. Guerin’s film, where the man is mostly an empty vessel of desire, sort of a stand-in for the archetypical male gaze, enjoying the aesthetics of bodies crossing each other as the ten o’clock sun bounces off them. I mean, for all we know, the scene and the film could very well be the ideal example Mr. Andrew Sarris’ when he sums it all up in three words – “Girls! Girls! Girls!” It is a multi-planar structure out there, with our man mostly indulging himself in a low-stakes obsession, sort of like the way most of us often find ourselves at the movies. Mr. Trier is considerably more serious, probably more respectful of the rigors of everyday life and the value they hold, and he probably doesn’t have much within him for otherwise bohemian soul of Mr. Guerin’s masterpiece, or Mr. Woody Allen silly little escapade in two-dimensional Paris, where the opening presents a depthless ahistorical completely uninfluential city, where it has been basically cut out of a postcard, and exists like a piece of dead furniture. Oslo here is a subjective place who geography and history is created out of personal memories, and where the city might cease to exist outside of them.
The café. Mr. Trier has Anders (Mr. Anders Danielsen Lie) sit near the edge of this rectangular café, whereby he begins as an outsider to all the chatter around him. The glass wall near him becomes a screen of sorts, to the “outside” Oslo, and what feeds his perspective of it is the inside of the café. There’s a magnificent display of transference, thereby pulling Anders into being the center of the circle, and which establishes the two-way communication here by influencing his (thereby ours) perspective of the inside by the outside. I would want to consider this the most respectful tribute to the medium, as opposed to the “referential” brand of filmmaking, because hey, we’re at the movies even when we aren’t at the movies. While watching movies, the frame of reference is life. While watching life, the frame of reference is movies. And our life, for the most part, is an indistinguishable muddle of the interaction between the exterior and the interior, between the imagination and reality.Mr. Trier draws considerable leverage from stray bystanders and people passing by, and even a momentary shot of an anonymous walking past Anders on the street, or of a hunk having a conversation with his buddy whets our voyeuristic instincts. It makes us desire. The tragedy here isn’t that Anders cannot get rid of his drug-addiction. The tragedy here isn’t that everything is over between him and Iselin. The tragedy is that Anders cannot desire. The tragedy is that Anders might be the exact opposite of that man in Sylvia’s city, and that Anders is aware of it. Oslo, 31st August is Anders journey through a day in Oslo to find desire, and he finds none. The final few shots are probably the only “objective” views of Oslo, and unhinged from any memories it’s just about as dead as Mr. Allen’s Paris. Feels just about right that it’s the only place where Mr. Trier feels the need for a classical picture-postcard composition.