"Oslo, August 31" is a Norwegian drama, about a day in the life of a recovering drug addict named Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie, in photo), that is one of the bleaker movies I've seen all year. It's also lucidly, even exquisitely made, with an air of profound, observant compassion worthy of the great Robert Bresson. The second film by Joachim Trier, "Oslo" more than confirms the promise of 2006's "Reprise." No, it's not for the multiplex crowd -- their loss -- but for moviegoers with open minds and hearts, it's a stunner.
Too bad it won't be showing in the Boston area, only one of the country's biggest art-house markets.
It was supposed to, before Landmark Theatres -- the 232-screen national art-house chain that, through its Kendall Square and the Waltham Embassy cinemas, dominates the specialty film scene in Boston -- abruptly scuttled plans to release "Oslo" here after changing the release date no fewer than three times. This happens a lot, actually. Every Friday, two to four new films come to the Landmark chain and the head office, in Los Angeles, has to figure out where to put them and how long to play them. Ironically, the overwhelming success (in art-house terms) of summer 2012 releases "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" has created a bottleneck that prevents less-heralded but worthy titles from finding a perch.
But this is also what happens when one chain gets a stranglehold. A few decades back, Boston was home to a large number of independent theaters with adventurous spirits and creative programming. The Orson Welles, the Allston, the Exeter, the Park Square and Kenmore; the list goes on. Today, "indie" is a market demographic and Landmark has the screens and the clout (if not, ahem, the projection quality) to make remaining non-chain screens like the Coolidge and the Brattle dance to their release schedule.
The irony is that area critics, myself included, have been waiting for weeks to spread the word about "Oslo, August 31st," because it's so good and because it needs the help (and because we like turning other people on to movies we like). I know of at least three reviewers who were looking forward to giving "Oslo" four-star raves, so the abrupt announcement this week that the film wouldn't be opening here -- on a Landmark screen, anyway -- has caused a sort of reviewus interruptus that would be comical if local moviegoers weren't being cheated out of seeing an excellent movie.
I talked to Marcus Hu, co-founder of the film's US distributor, Strand Releasing, who was frustrated but circumspect. "I'm as disappointed as you," Hu says. "Landmark said it was a crowded market and they're just unable to accommodate it." Strand is working to find another area venue to debut "Oslo," perhaps the Brattle or the Museum of Fine Arts. The company's VP of theatrical distribution, Mike Williams, blames the box-office numbers in cities that have already shown the film: "It's not anyone's fault. Despite being one of the most highly acclaimed films of the year, some of the other titles are performing better." Williams says that Landmark has been supportive of the film, but a local observer has to wonder why the chain is putting its money on a speciously provocative bit of "indie" exploitation like "Compliance" -- opening at the Kendall on Aug. 24 -- rather than a film many are calling one of the year's best.
Oh, right, "Compliance" has controversy and a hottie who gets naked, which equals more tickets sold. As opposed to "Oslo, August 31st," which only has naked souls.
About Movie Nation
ContributorsTy Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.
Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.
Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.
Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.
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