Focus on U – July 22

From U – July 22 movie

Let’s make something clear right away for those who might not be aware: the “U” lurking in the title of U – July 22 refers to Utøya, the name of the Norwegian island where the horrendous massacre we all know about unfolded in 2011. In the wake of The King's Choice, which rousted the whole of Norway by looking back on the courage of its king in the face of Hitler, Erik Poppe once again seizes on a major event in the country’s history, trying to extract from its – in this case tragic – nature a kind of strength that his mise-en-scène is highlighting. U – July 22, presented in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, not only will give addicts of mobile-filmed terrorist snuff footage something to assuage their voyeurism, which repeated views of the handful of videos uploaded to YouTube no longer satisfy – it will also provide an unforgettable experience to cinema audiences.

The first challenge for a filmmaker who wishes to take on a story that we already know the end to is probably not to let his project fall into the pitfall of predictability. The director’s decision to use a real-time sequence shot is enhanced by the fact that the director trains his nimble camera, constantly immersed in the action without ever understanding what’s going on (which steeps the film in the same incredulous anguish that one can readily find in the user-uploaded videos that proliferate on the internet in the aftermath of a tragedy), not on the killer himself, but rather on the victims. Indeed, he concentrates particularly on a character whose side he never leaves: a responsible smart cookie by the name of Kaja (Andrea Berntzen), who, during the 72 minutes that the killing spree lasts, tries to find her little sister (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne) – an element that enables the director to add some suspense to previously known events.

Naturally, Kaja’s terrified (and terrifying) journey is peppered with several obligatory ingredients required when the possibility of imminent death presents itself (from bucket lists to hypothetical future plans as they hold out until the forces of law and order arrive – although they take far too long to turn up), and when you have a vulnerable group on the receiving end of a single individual’s senseless acts, which one will never be able to guard against. Seeing the young woman’s sheer nerve in the face of all the horror (her search even forces her to head towards the danger, contrary to the others), one finds oneself living a horrible experience, wondering if the most resourceful person of all will survive this act of mindless violence.

The movie draws to a close by displaying information summing up the tragedy on Utøya (obviously without mentioning the name of the killer and stressing that the police took their sweet time to arrive). One may come out of the film with mixed feelings, asking what is the point of having made it – but then again, who can say what is the point of terrorism?

U – July 22 was produced by Oslo-based Paradox Film 7. The film’s international sales have been entrusted to Danish sales agent TrustNordisk.