On the 22 July 2011 in Norway, horrifying terrorist attacks were carried out solely by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik that would claim the lives of 77 people. The first attack being a bomb detonated in Oslo, the second an open-fire gun attack at a summer camp of Workers’ Youth League on the island of Utøya. Most of those killed were in fact teenagers.
22 July, released on Netflix and in select cinemas, is Paul Greengrass’ new film portraying the tragedy which shook Norway, and indeed the world, to its very core. The dark documentary style filming is consistent, which opens with the car bomb in Oslo and then follows Breivik to Utøya with a disturbing scene showing the terrifying attack on the people trapped on the island. The rest of the film follows the aftermath of the attacks, the injured, those suffering with unimaginable grief, the trial and of course the actions and contested mental state of Breivik himself.
The opening scenes portraying the actual attacks are harrowing to say the least. These are not easy to watch, at times unbearable. The clever fast-paced filming of the scenes on the island mean that within the first 15 minutes of the film you are thrown into a heart-racing panic, cleverly mirroring the unimaginable actual events unfolding before you.
Anders Danielsen Lie portrays Breivik in a chilling, emotionless way. His performance is particularly commendable throughout with the scenes in which he interacts with his lawyer, Geir Lippestad, (portrayed by Jon Øigarden) providing another memorable performance. As Lippestad appears to be physically repulsed by the man whom he interacts with, Breivik remains cold and even slightly amused, culminating with him declaring at the end of the film, “I’d do it all again, if I could.”
Any type of film that covers such a sensitive and contentious event will always be not only difficult to watch but also heavily debated. The idea that such a tragedy can be condensed down to just over two hours and includes the political consequences of such extremism also, some will argue, is just not in good taste. However, Greengrass and his all-Norwegian cast and crew actually make a good attempt at creating a film which remains chilling, emotional and yet not sensationalised. Besides one moving speech at the end by Viljar Hanssen (Thorbjørn Harr), there is no big contrived ending, the outcome of the tragedy and the lasting impact remain the focus throughout.
July 22 is testing, it is difficult to watch the results of such a tragedy on ordinary people, it is at times unbearable to see the emotionless smirk of Breivik and emotional to watch the effects on the families involved. Yet, the film deals with so many issues: mental health, post-traumatic stress, survivor’s syndrome, and it does so in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling as though the film has been exaggerated for the big screen. July 22 is not meant to be enjoyable; it is meant to be gritty, thought-provoking and a fairly justified portrayal of just how far the impact of one man’s terrible actions can spread.
Image: Erik Aavatsmark