‘Oslo, 31st August’

A gentle, sensitive unfolding of a recovering drug addict given a day’s leave from his rehab centre for a work interview.

Leaving the centre determined to make a go of it, over the course of the day and night, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie – The Worst Person in the World, Bergman Island) attempts to reconnect with family and friends. Welcomed by some, but for others memories of his heroin addiction and lives destroyed are too fresh.

Directed by Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World, Reprise), Oslo 31st August is surprisingly empathic towards the educated but self-centred addict. With more than a hint of existential angst as Anders struggles with purpose, Trier looks to a lucid, inner cry of pain as the everyday of normalcy crowds around him.

Rating: 74%

‘The Worst Person in the World’

Over a four year period, Julie, a once high-achieving schoolgirl, navigates love, emotions and a sense of self in the gentle, nuanced Oslo-set feature from writer/director Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombers, Oslo August 31st).

Told through a series of vignettes, The Worst Person in the World unfolds the frustrations and uncertainties of Julie (Renate Reinsve – Oslo August 31st, Ekspedisjon Knerten) and her relationship with graphic artist, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie – Personal Shopper, Oslo August 31st). Stuck in a part-time position at a bookshop, the chaotic and unpredictable Julie finds herself unexpectedly leaving the intense, older Aksel for laid back Elvind (Herbert Nordrum – Amundsen, The King’s Choice). But even then, she’s not certain the right choice has been made.

To settle into family life or search for independence and meaning is Julie’s struggle in this intelligent, thought-provoking narrative. It is guilty of meandering – and unfolds into something of a talkfest. But, with a strong performance from Reinsve (winner of best actress at Cannes), The Worst Person in the World is satisfying with its life of contradictions and possible atonement for wrong decisions.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2022 – best original script and foreign language film.

Rating: 69%

Best of Year (2017) – Film

moonlight-poster-lgA very good year but not quite vintage. There were quite a few films that fell into the 70-80% bracket (including the best Australian film, Lion, and best animated feature, Loving Vincent) but 12 films comfortably headed the list, with the top three significantly clear of the rest of the field.

My top 10 films of the year (God’s Own Country and the best documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, just missed out) are:

10: Detroit
9: The Salesman
8: The King’s Choice
7: Land of Mine
6: Baby Driver
5: Blade Runner 2049
4: Insyriated
3: Manchester by the Sea
2: Dunkirk
1: Moonlight

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was a distressing powerhouse, an immersive experience of police brutality and racism during the 1967 riots. The film boasted an excellent ensemble cast although I singled out Will Poulter as the police officer in charge in my top five male performances of the year.

The second film by director Asghar Fahardi to win the Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar (the first was the magnificent A Separation), The Salesman is a surprisingly quiet narrative as a teacher looks to discover the identity of the person who assaulted his wife in their new home.

Based on historical fact, King Haakon VII of Norway is forced to make a decision that will impact on his country and millions of lives. It’s April 1940 and Nazi Germany has invaded under the pretext of protection from aggressive Allied Forces. The King’s Choice is whether to accept their protection – or declare war.

2017 was a good year for Scandinavian films – the Danish Land of Mine also features in the top 10 as young German POWs are forced to clear the land mines from the beaches immediately following the end of World War II.

An unexpectedly huge box-office hit, Baby Driver with Ansel Elgort as the ubercool getaway driver, is entertaining with a capital ‘e’ with a blast of a soundtrack. But following accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, Baby Driver could well be the last time we see Kevin Spacey on the big screen.

The original was one of the coolest sci-fi films of its generation. Thirty years later a sequel was finally released – and its one of the coolest sci-fi films of its generation. Blade Runner 2049 – thanks to its director Denis Villeneuve and the superb cinematography of veteran Roger Deakins – is a cerebral spectacle and makes my top five films of the year.

The shattering Lebanese/Belgian Insyriated is in fourth. My pick of films seen at the Melbourne International Film Festival, headed by Hiam Abbass (the female performance of the year), the claustrophobic drama finds a middle-class Syrian family (and a couple of neighbours) holed up in their Damascus apartment as civil war rages around the streets.

Casey Affleck may well have won all the awards (including my vote for best actor of the year), but the cast and creatives of Manchester by the Sea certainly picked up their own accolades. Emotionally destroyed by tragedy, Affleck returns to his hometown following the death of his older brother where he needs to face his demons to find closure.

Visually stunning, Dunkirk is a film of few words with its emotional sweep and visceral beauty and a jigsaw of narratives, separate but creating a cohesive whole as 300,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers are rescued from the beaches of northern France.

But top of my list – and Oscar winner for best film – is Moonlight. Yet another indie ensemble piece (it was a good year!), small in scale, ambitious in scope, Moonlight is a minor masterpiece, pure melancholic poetry. What a turn up for the books when it beat La La Land to best film!

‘The King’s Choice’

987069A riveting historical drama as the King of Norway must decide whether to sign the accord with Hitler and the invading German army – or risk war and civilian deaths.

The burden of responsibility is carried by King Haakon VII (superbly played by Jesper Christensen – Casino Royale, Melancholia) over three eventful days as the Germans search for the King in the snowy countryside north of Oslo. The fate of his country and family hang in the balance as Haakon confronts his moral dilemma.

Measured yet immersive, director Erik Poppe (1,000 Times Goodnight, Troubled Water) avoids overtly emotional scenes or cliches, looking instead to reasoned arguments and discussions to determine the final choice made by the king.

Rating: 82%