Oslo, August 31st is an adaptation based on an adaptation. As a modern-day reworking of Louis Malle’s The Fire Within or Le feu follet, Trier moves the story from 1960s Paris to contemporary Oslo, giving the film a relevance and nostalgic atmosphere. Malle’s film was based on Pierre Drieu La Rochelle’s novella of the same title, a story about suicide, named after a naturally occurring phenomena which is “believed to arise from a chemical combination of methane and hydrogen phosphate and takes the shape of a small, flickering flame appearing just above the ground, then burning itself out.” Rochelle saw the main character of the film, Alain, “as a dying flame on the cusp of extinction.” But unlike the two previous adaptations, Trier’s film is more meditative than its predecessors. It speaks to us through mis-en-scene and tone rather than direct verbalization of the character’s psychology. It’s formalistic in structure and does not romanticize the act of suicide, but speaks to one man’s resolute decision to end his life.
Having always been fascinated by Malle’s film, Trier says, “Sometimes while you’re listening to a piece of music you start to recollect some emotions. When you are watching a movie or looking at a photo, you learn how to accept some of the experiences you have had. All my life I was watching a lot of movies yet nothing was so important The Fire Within.” And forOslo, he wanted to focus on translating motifs from the book into modern-day narration, allowing the film and its portrait of solitude and insular emotion to better help us understand our own selves and our own isolated feelings.
Cinematic Panic: The Quiet Allure of Joachim Trier’s ‘Oslo, August 31st’