Utøya – July 22
- Demetrios Mathieou
- 22 October 2018
A moving portrayal of courage inspired by a real Norwegian tragedy
Hot on the heels of Paul Greengrass's July 22, about a lone terrorist's slaughter of 77 people in Norway in 2011, comes another account of that horrendous day. It's a big ask of audiences to put themselves through the wringer twice over. But the films are very different animals.
Greengrass gave a broad canvas, following both the reactionary monster Anders Breivik and his victims, and including Breivik's trial. In contrast, Norwegian director Eric Poppe's film is more concentrated – a real-time recreation of Breivik's main attack on the island of Utøya, where members of the Norwegian Labour Party's youth league had gathered for their annual summer camp. Breivik doesn't feature; the perspective is totally that of his young victims. The result is harrowing, heart-breaking, and unbearably tense.
After a brief prologue involving Breivik's detonation of a car bomb at government buildings in Oslo, Poppe cuts to Utøya, where the bombing is on everyone's lips. The conversation is political, concerned, but also detached – after all, it's happened somewhere else. But then there's a bang, like a firecracker, and panic-stricken people come streaming out of the trees.
For the next 72 minutes (the duration of Breivik's assault) the camera is fixed on one student, Kaja (Andrea Berntzen), as she criss-crosses the island – between the campsite, the trees and the shore – desperately trying to find her sister, while staying alive. But for one glimpse of his outline, the gunman is never in view. The terror is created by gunshots and screams, by fleeing people and the youngsters' fearful reactions. It's impossible to know how close the shots are.
While the script is based on testimonies, the characters are fictitious. Poppe thankfully eschews on-screen bloodbath for a visceral depiction of how it might have felt to be trapped on the island. Aided by Berntzen's brilliant portrayal of a young woman of courage and resolve, he creates a moving homage to the very generation of Norwegians who Breivik wanted to destroy.
Limited release from Fri 26 Oct.