Utøya - July 22

 

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A film of great power but one that is irritating too.

   

Utøya - July 22
 
The title omits the year but it was in fact 2011 that brought notoriety to the Norwegian island of Utøya, that being the summer when for a lethal 72 minutes the right-wing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik run amok there killing around sixty-eight people and wounding countless others. Accordingly, Erik Poppe's film joins the list of movies portraying horrific real-life events. Whenever that happens, one fears that the work will be exploitative. Fortunately, Utøya - July 22 can be cleared of that charge with ease since it invites the audience to identify with the victims (indeed the killer himself is barely glimpsed as the story is told in real time).

 

A prologue lasting about a quarter of an hour introduces us to the young campers on the island and as a representative figure at the film's centre we have the fictional but totally credible Kaja (Andrea Berntzen). Along with others such as Magnus (Aleksander Holmen) and Petter (Brede Fristad) she tries to hide but finds that there is no place to which to run for safety. We are given an extra plot line in that Kaja goes off on a desperate quest to find her sister Emilie (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osborne) who, although also on the island, had not been with her when the attack started. She will later link up with her friends again, but before that she has an encounter with a badly injured girl (Solveig Koløen Birkeland) whom she tries to help.

 

Given the subject matter, Poppe's film is in no sense an entertainment and I am bound to say that I am not clear for whom it was made. It may increase our understanding of what the potential victims felt, but it is hardly a tribute to their bravery (the raison d'être behind the memorable United 93 with its re-enactment of the fatal hijacking of that flight in 2001). Nor is it a case of those involved being helped to face their consequent traumas as in that fine documentary concerned with a sniper at the University of Texas, 2016's Tower.

 

Other issues of another kind arise too. Andrea Berntzen is impressive in the lead role but some of the minor roles are weakly played and the writing is not always persuasive (there is a line early on in which Utøya is described as the safest place in the world and such an archly self-conscious irony strikes a false note at once). But the worst aspect of Utøya - July 22 stems from Poppe's decision to echo Hitchcock's Rope by shooting it in a single take and jettisoning the usual editing. It is utterly misguided because the hand-held camera used results in many distractingly fast movements as well as wobbly shots: the theory is presumably that it all adds to the sense of being there, but in practice it is a strain on the eyes and tiresomely self-conscious. Not by chance the most telling scene is that showing Kaja with the injured girl because for once the camera remains static almost throughout. Fortunately the excesses wrought by this style are less disturbing in the film’s second half and for all its faults watching Utøya - July 22 does by its close amount to a formidable experience in the way intended.

 

Original title: Utøya 22. juli.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Andrea Berntzen, Aleksander Holmen, Solveig Koløen Birkeland, Brede Fristad, Elli Rhiannon Müller Osborne, Jenny Svennevig, Ingeborg Enes Kjevik, Sorosh Sadat, Ada Otilde Eide, Daniel Sang Tran.

 

Dir Erik Poppe, Pro Finn Gjerdrum and Stein B. Kvae, Screenplay Siv Rajendram Eliassen and Anna Bache-Wiig, from a idea by Erik Poppe, Ph Martin Otterbeck, Pro Des Harald Egede-Nissen, Ed Einar Egeland, Music Rikke Simonsen and Christina Lovery.

  
Paradox Film 7AS/SVT Nordisk Film/DR/NRK-Modern Films.
97 mins. Norway/Denmark/Sweden. 2018. Rel: 26 October 2018. Cert. 15.