Utøya: 22 July review

Dir: Erik Poppe. Starring Andrea Berntzen, Aleksander Holmen, Solveig Koloen Birkeland

There will be a very select few films more difficult or harrowing to watch this year than Utøya: 22 July and I say that as a positive. Based on the terrorist attacks in Norway on July 22nd 2011, the film focuses on the massacre of 69 Norwegian Labour Party’s Youth League member on the small island of Utoya.

There may a bit of confusion this month as a film on Netflix about the attacks has also been released and while that film is a lot broader, it perhaps gives the attacker too much attention. By showing him carrying out the attack (talking directly to the audience at times) and the immediate aftermath, the film loses the effect it should be trying to portray.

Throughout Utøya: 22 July however and in fact throughout the marketing of the film, not once is the perpetrator’s image, voice or name used, assisting to symbolise how much respect the filmmakers have for the victims. This could be because everyone involved is Norwegian so a more delicate approach to how the killer is represented has been utilised.

By focussing only on the victims we as the viewer do not get the chance to sympathise or feel any emotion to the killer and by doing this two things occur. We are trapped in the horror of not knowing what is occurring throughout the island due to being with Kaja (Andrea Berntzen). you hear things happening, but unless Kaja makes it to that part of the island we do not know the fate of the hundreds of other victims. Secondly, it is apparent that although the names have been changed from some of the characters that the filmmakers have tried to adhere the utmost respect to the victims by not dramatising the events to an excessive point.

This respect for the event and the victims remains throughout the film due to the fact that the filmmakers use the actual testimonies from the victims. Although, it should be noted that some of the testimonies have been meshed together to form this film, so although the vast majority of scenes and events happen in the film, they may not have at that time. But for the most part, what we see is what was occurring, but with Kaja being our eyes into the world that they encountered that day.

In Greengrass’s version we follow two male characters around the island, whereas Poppe has chosen a female character to follow, this feels a very pointed decision due to how important the real-life scenes in the trial occurred when numerous strong females took the stand to provide their account of the events.

To assist with bringing the viewer onto the island, the film is presented in a one-shot handheld format lasts only 72 minutes, but those 72 minutes is the exact length of the attack. Pulling you into the film as if you are watching a live report from a news crew of everything that is happening in realtime causes your understanding of the impact of the victim’s lives to heighten immensely. It is frantic and each step Kaja takes to help and find other survivors is felt. Each death is felt, your heart breaks for everyone and that is very much the point. Much will be said about the real events and how harrowing and close to real life they appear, but the entire cast and production of the crew have created something special and a film that forces you to remember it and the victims.

Poppe has stated that he wanted to bring the attention back to the victims of the attack and away from the murderer. This can only be commended as he has already had enough articles and pieces written about him since the attack. By focussing on the victims, they are able to take a hold of the story and not allow it to be led by those who carried it out.

A lot will be made about the ethics of highlighting this event again, especially only 7sevenyears after and so close to the timing of the event. Is Utøya: July 22 difficult to watch? Almost certainly, but it is a film that demands to be seen and one that even seven years later in this current climate is required to be seen.


Utøya: July 22 is in cinemas now.

Utoya July 22 is in cinemas now.

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