Seven years ago, on the 22nd July, more than 500 teenagers at a left-wing political summer camp on Utøya, a small island outside Oslo, were targeted by the armed right-wing extremist Anders Breivik.
The attack left 69 people dead - most of them children. Hundreds more were left seriously injured and psychologically traumatised. The incident stunned the world, throwing into stark relief the danger posed by rising far-right extremism across Europe.
Two films released this October deal with this harrowing event in strikingly different ways. The first, Paul Greengrass’s 22 July, which was released earlier this month on Netflix, deals with the event as well as its aftermath. The film presents the physical and psychological impact of the attack on the victims and survivors, as well as the high-profile court case that followed.
By contrast, Utøya – July 22, opening at the Showroom Cinema this Friday, takes a very different, more focused and arguably more powerful approach. Directed by the Norwegian filmmaker Erik Poppe and made with the close supervision of survivors, the film presents a real-time recreation of this horrific event from the victims’ perspectives, shot in a single unbroken take.
Poppe deliberately chooses not to show, or even name, the perpetrator at all. Instead, the film follows Kaja, a strong-willed and compassionate teenager with ambitions to become an MP, as she does everything she can to survive and help those around her. The characters in the film are fictionalised but the film closely reflects the experiences of survivors, and it’s in this tight focus that the film’s strengths lie. It’s the small details, and particularly the focus on interpersonal relationships and the personalities of the individuals we meet, that make the work such a powerful piece of reconstructive history. The teenagers in Poppe’s film appear as fully rounded individuals - ordinary kids doing what ordinary kids do. Before the attack on the island begins, we see them discussing the bombing in Oslo that immediately preceded the shootings: they nervously chat, argue about politics, and joke and flirt with one another. This emphasis on the victims as individuals - as real people with hopes, dreams and fears - is what makes the trauma that follows all the more harrowing. Poppe’s film suggests that it is the victims of this cruel and senseless attack that deserve to be remembered - not the perpetrator and his twisted ideology. Utøya – July 22 premiered at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival and drew praise from survivors as a painful but necessary examination of a trauma that Norway, and the world, is still attempting to process. It is an earnest and heartfelt tribute to the courage of the young victims and a compelling depiction of the horror and violence that can result when extremist views are left unchecked. Utøya – July 22 will be showing at the Showroom Cinema from Friday 26 th October.