Directed by Joachim Trier and released in it’s home country of Norway in 2011.
The following review does contain spoilers.
The film starts out with voices over the soundtrack telling stories about Oslo, the capital city of Norway. The voices tell of loves and their most memorable stories of the city they love dearly – all intercut over various footage of the city itself ending with the demolition of a building. The title card appears and we cut straight to a man’s face. This is our main character, Anders. He’s just had sex with a Swedish women, but as we find out later he’s void of desire for this act or the woman. He’s a recovering drug addict on evening leave from his treatment centre.
He leaves and walks back to the centre but on his way there his feelings overcome him. He finds a lake and decides to end his life. He fills his pockets with stones and stands at the forefront of the lake. Finding a larger stone he cradles it and descends into the water…. but moments later he reappears crying and gasping for his breath. He goes back to the treatment centre as if nothing has happened and continues his day. This opening sequence sets the scene for Anders. A man who, regardless of his drug addictions, is riddled with personal problems and has no desire whatsoever to overcome them.
The film follows him as he takes a day of leave from the treatment centre for a job interview and to meet old friends. The first thing he does when he leaves is to meet one of his closest friends who is now a father. They discuss an incredible range of topics covering suicide to friendship and worthlessness. The two are clearly at one with each other and as the film goes on you understand why he went to this man to discuss these things with first.
There is an incredibly poignant scene where he sits in a café observing the world passing him by, various conversations flutter in and out of audibility but most of what they are talking about relates to him in some way. As the world passes him by, so does the elegant camerawork focusing on the things around him more so than the character himself. A brilliant move from the director, which really showcases how one man is no better than any other – a trait which the character of Anders is well aware of.
As he meets old friends he realizes that whether or not they show it he’s no more important to them than their job or their day to day activities. As a result of this he goes and scores some heroin, no surprise seeing as he clearly is incapable of conquering any of his own troubles by himself. The ending contains an incredibly pivotal scene with Anders putting a needle into his arm. The camera barely captures it and it is incredibly ambiguous leaving you wondering if he’s injected the drug or he hasn’t – he keels over into his bed and it really is a mystery as to whether he’s under the influence or whether he’s emotionally affected by this pivotal moment in his life: “What has become of me?” He could just as well have taken it but it’s either here nor there. The beauty of this shot is that it evokes a brilliant painting from 1856 by Henry Wallis entitled “The Death of Chatterton”.
The film ends with a montage of images, as it begun, but this time with locations that we’ve seen Anders visit throughout the movie – a brilliant montage to end on. Oslo, August 31st is an exquisite film that really does show how the world will pass you by no matter who you are or what your problems are.
Directed by Sang-soo Hong and released in it’s home country of South Korea in 1996.
The filmmakers of South Korea are very masterful in their depiction of emotion and the relationships between man and woman and even mere friends. Sang-soo Hong is one of those masters. After viewing a few of his more recent works I decided to go back and visit his debut feature, The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well.
As you would expect, the difference between Hong’s work 15 years into his career is slightly more polished and rounded out than his first cinematic effort but that’s not to say that his debut film is nothing less than riveting. Like his later films, Hong focuses on relationships and gives us a slew of characters for us to watch as they intertwine into each others lives most of them without knowing it.
There are a few violent twists which I have to say I wasn’t expecting after his very family friendly later works and there’s also a lot of sex scenes which give it a raw feel and definitely helps you get to grips with the fact you’re watching this man’s first foray into filmmaking. The sexual tension is high and the characters are very aware of this most of the time.
All in all it’s a great start to a formidable career from Sang-soo Hong.
Directed by Jeong-beom Lee and released in it’s home country of South Korea in 2010.
The Man From Nowhere is a harrowing revenge tale with an excruciatingly emotional heart. The film tells the story of Cha Tae-sik (played brilliantly by Bin Won), an ex secret service agent who runs a pawnshop. His next door neighbor is a heroin addict with a young child, Jeong So-mi (played equally as brilliantly by Sae-ron Kim). When they are both abducted by a drug lord to use for organ transplants Cha must search the city for the masterminds behind the abduction aswell as the child herself. This all enrupts into epic fight scenes reminiscent of other Asian masterpieces such as Oldboy and A Bittersweet Life.
The themes of family and parenthood are strewn across the picture and they all lead up to an incredibly emotional finale which almost brought me to tears just watching it. The lead performance by Bin Won is quite exceptional, his character barely speaks throughout the entire film but you cannot help but be entranced by his striking onscreen presence. The fight scenes are very well choreographed which is the same for almost all Korean action films I’ve seen.
This film is a spectacular epic with a pulse and a heart, something you don’t see in any genre let alone one of this calibre.
Directed by Lukas Moodysson and released in it’s home country of Sweden in 2002.
Lilya 4-Ever opens with our protagonist, the 16-year-old Lilya, running through the streets. She’s battered, bruised and confused. Rammstein blasts through the soundtrack. She ends up at a bridge, incredibly contemplative of her next move. Then, the scene cuts to Estonia, three months earlier. The industrial metal is gone and heavy techno slowly dissolves onto the soundtrack and you’re left with the ambiguity of the first scene to play on your mind until the very end of the picture.
We meet Lilya on her way to America with her mother and her new boyfriend. All is not as it seems however as soon we realize that she won’t be going to America after all. At first, Lilya isn’t bothered at all but after mulling it over she runs after her mother begging her not to leave without her. Her mother leaves regardless, leaving her in the care of her old fashioned aunt who makes her stay in a dinghy flat as to a lack of money on both parties.
For the first hour and twenty minutes of the movie we come to adore this cute girl and her antics aswell as her growing friendship with the pre-pubescent Volodya – her only friend. As they become closer Lilya runs out of money and decides to take up prostitution, something we’re introduced to early on when she goes to a club with her friend who performs this act first. Little does she know this is something she will regret deeply in the months to come. That’s all I’ll say in terms of plot because that’s about as much as I want to give away.
The film is a testament to ambiguity and deep themes of religion and family run rampant through the film. Lilya never met her mother, is an only child and has just been abdandoned by her mother. The closest thing she has to family is Volodya and we slowly learn that he feels the exact same way about her. There are some absolutely incredibly scenes later on in the film, a montage of men thrusting on top of Lilya is undoubtedly one of the most eery scenes I’ve ever witnessed as it’s sheer power makes it stand out from the majority of the other scenes in the film. The piece comes full circle and the ending is just absolutely fantastic. The circle isn’t complete without absolute ambiguity and we get no less than that.
The final scenes are superb and Lukas Moodysson needs to be eternally applauded for all of his work on this film as does Oksana Akinshina who gives an unbelievable performance that stands out as one of my all time favourite female performances in the history of cinema.