“You’ll never understand, just listen to
We arrive on the island as the teens at its political summer camp have just heard about the explosion at the Government buildings in Oslo that acted as Breivik’s cover for his attack on Utøya. They are talking about the explosion of course, but also about other things – for
Kaja’s right in the beginning: we’ll never understand, but Erik Poppe’s mix of fact and fiction (the characters and specifics of the story are fictional, but based on interviews with survivors and drawn from a variety of their real experience) is clearly intended to plunge us into the nightmare of Utøya so we can come as close as possible to seeing and understanding what it was like to be there that day. Much of what is most interesting in Poppe’s direction is what he chooses not to show. Breivik is almost an absent figure, glimpsed only twice, a shape more than a person. The other thing we don’t see is people being shot. Bodies are visible, largely as Kaja and whoever she’s
It’s the noise that stays with you. From the time the first gunshot rings out (“firecrackers?” says one kid) to the moment the credits roll, we’re never sure where the crack of the next bullet will come from. There is a constant sense of dread and fantastic sound design ensures that we’re never able to anticipate the next shot. The quiet is almost more terrifying, as an
Andrea Berntzen makes an exceptional debut as Kaja. Neither she nor any of the other young actors strike a false note. In the early
There is some contrivance in the idea of basing the entire narrative around Kaja, sometimes the idea that everything in the story would happen to a single individual strains credulity, but that is repaid by the emotional investment we develop in her as a character. Only one brief scene breaks the verisimilitude; one choice that it’s tough to imagine the character we’ve now spent over an hour with making
U – July 22 is, appropriately, difficult and harrowing viewing, but it’s a great display of directorial technique not to dazzle us with that technique but to plant us feet first in a situation, to make us feel like we have lain in the dirt with these people and felt some tiny measure of what they felt.