Friday, October 05, 2018

UTOYA - JULY 22 - BFI London Film Festival 2018 - Preview

We're soon to be greeted with not one but two films about the white supremacist terrorist attacks on Oslo on July 22nd 2011.  The more high profile film is called 22 JULY. Directed by Paul Greengrass it will be released on Netflix on October 10th, and covers more than just the attacks. He gives context and aftermath - the political climate in Norway and the trial of the perpetrator.  I look forward to watching it very much.

By contrast, Erik Poppe's U-JULY 22 or UTOYA - JULY 22 focuses on the immediate events on Utoya island.  In that respect it more closely resembles Gus Van Sant's ELEPHANT. We open with a car bomb exploding outside government buildings in Oslo and then move immediately to Utoya. We see young teenagers camping on an island - grubby in a damp in a way that feels so familiar from school trips. A girl - our protagonist Kaia turns to the screen and apparently breaks the fourth wall -challenging us that we won't understand. Then we realise she's speaking to someone on the phone. But it's a provocative challenge.  We then move into the first act of the film - kids hanging around and discussing the news of the car bomb. A muslim kid nervously tells them Al Qaeda will get the blame as always.  Some other kids decide not to let it stop their fun.  There's the usual banal chit chat.  And then, about 20 minutes into the film, the second terrorist attack begins and unfolds seemingly in real time. The kids run and hide in a building as they hear gun shots. Is it a drill? How many gunmen are there? Why can't they get through to the cops on the phone? Kaia makes it out of the building trying to find her kid sister, but instead finds a traumatised little brother of someone else, and holds another teenager as she dies.  All three scenes - the traumatised boy, the desperate call to her mum saying she can't find her sister, and the death scene - are desperately moving and brilliantly acted. I can't speak enough for the talent and raw emotion of Andrea Berntzen here.  The outside world comes into the picture - are the helicopters police ready to help or the media?  Can you swim to safety or risk being shot in open water?

Overall, UTOYA is a stunning film.  The research that went into the film comes through in its feeling of authenticity, and the editing and technical design of the film shot in a single long-take bring a feeling of intense immediacy.  In particular, the sound design of the guns firing, kids running through grass and scrabbling over rocks, and then helicopters scrambling overhead - is superb. I also deeply respect the decision to never show and thus pander to the terrorist, but to keep the camera focused on the victims and survivors. This is their story and its one of courage and camaraderie under extreme circumstances. But it's also a provocative film that asks what we would do in the same situation. Would we hold up a limping girl or leave her to run for safety - would we let a girl into our hideaway that was already full or push her out? How do you calculate the risk of staying or running? This provocation even works at a meta-level: would you recreate these events? 

UTOYA - JULY 22 - has a running time of 92 minutes.  It played Berlin 2018 and was released in the Nordics this summer.  There are still tickets available for both screenings at this year's BFI London Film Festival 2018.

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