Film Review – ‘Utøya: July 22’ (2018)

To create films based on a true story where the main premise is about a terrorist attack will surely find a target audience. It is puzzling that ‘Utøya: July 22’ will be played in selected cinemas on a more low key scale. Many will question, why? There is a perfectly more marketable mainstream version on Netflix entitled ’22 July’ directed Academy Award nominee Paul Greengrass. The fact that the story is told on an epic scale telling the story from all parties involved from the terrorist, the victims and media will garner a wider audience in the comfort of their own home. Unfortunately, the cinematic version will not find a mainstream audience as they would find it a challenge.

Utøya: July 22’ is a more authentic version, spoken in 100% Norwegian with English subtitles. Sadly a mainstream audience will be too lazy with this and would by far rather watch the 143 minute English/Hollywood version on Netflix. Any film buff would ask why two versions of the story released in the same year? Perhaps those involved in the actual tragedy will be well compensated from telling their story, but maybe this independent Norwegian cinematic version needed to be made for the people of Norway. The fact that this attack is one of the only major tragedies of a beautiful country, it is only right to make two versions. One for the mainstream viewers and one for Norway.

The filmmaking style is very artistic and must be commended. A teenage girl struggles to survive and to find her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya. It is completely told from her point of view. Everything she goes through she takes us on her tragic journey. She encounters victim to victim. Helping gunshot victims, comforting them, laying low and dodging the sound of constant gunshots.

The film is made with one Steadicam throughout. Think of the discipline of the actors. They are directed to all be on standby and hit their mark when the camera is on them. Our protagonist Kaja played by 20 year old Norwegian actress Andrea Berntzen totally carries the film and we empathise with her fear, trauma and desperation to survive. She has acted in a tremendous way and her character Kaja tries to survive tooth and nail. Other merits to the film are overall the audience will feel like they are there with the teenage victims of the camp. The Steadicam is shaky like the impact of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ war battles. The gunshots are impactful as well. When we hear the fired shots loudly, we feel the terrorist is at a close range. When we hear them lightly we feel the terrorist is afar, hence can feel safe for the time being.

Although these cinematic traits are effective it carries a double-edged sword. The fact that we never really see the killer can be annoying. Tension is definitely amidst, but maybe we want to see the killer. We want to see his version of the story and in order to do that is easy. To watch ‘22 July’ on Netflix. If you want a backstory with motives, that would be the version to watch. If you want a challenge with easy subtitles, but a more mysterious version where you feel like you’re there with the victims, by all means, watch this version. But in all honesty, the better version is on Netflix.

Aly Lalji | [rating=3]

Drama, World Cinema | 2018, Norway | 15 | 26th October 2018 (UK) | Subtitles | Modern Films | Dir.Erik Poppe | Andrea Berntzen, Aleksander Holmen, Solveig Koløen Birkeland

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