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Proximity to American conventionalism

Reconstructing Utøya / 22 July
Regissør: Carl Javér/Paul Greengrass
(Norge, Sverige, Danmark / USA)

Of the two new films about the Utøya massacre, it is Reconstructing Utøya which, through four survivors' honest accounts, in all its simplicity allows us to see both the extent of the tragedy and a way forward for those involved.


The movie that holds you in your hand, and the tension variant. The many Utøya film formations eventually form a slightly too rich menu. The noise from Netflix's launch of the Paul Greengrass movie 22 July,based on Åsne Seierstad's book One of us, comes close to the Swedish Norwegian documentary Recontructing Utøyas premiere. Where the latter offers relief and sincerity in the approach, Netflix uses classic Hollywood conventions and action movie clips in July 22. Interestingly, both films use the same brotherhood story as a central element.

Where Carl Javér's documentary portrays the experience of the terrorist attack minute by minute, the feature film is built in the traditional American style by blending in with the family (family) and cross-cutting uninhibited to the perpetrator. The structure is meant to create suspense, but unfortunately weakens the sense of authenticity as well as the intensity of the drama. The quiet and simple Reconstructing Utøya is actually experienced much cruder by dropping us close to the events, and through the youngest brother's story take part in the experience.

Good intentions

Recontructing Utøyas title reflects how the movie came about. Four survivors are assisted by twelve other youth to recreate massacre situations. The process takes place over a couple of weeks in an otherwise empty film studio in Northern Norway.

The concept is chosen not only to create a new entrance to the Utøya story, but also to contribute in the healing process to the survivors.

Shrinking the time the terror took, becomes a harmless event.

Both films want to stand up to ideologies and ways of thinking that promote the use of terror. While he was recording July 22 in Oslo, Greengrass told why Norway's encounter with the terror became his focal point: The trauma management testifies to him about a society that, despite atrocities like Utøya, still manages to keep hope.

Many foreign Netflix users have responded positively to the streaming service daring to tell such a brutal story from reality. But even I struggle with both the film's narrative and the instruments. Constant cross-cutting to the perpetrator gives no new insight: He just sits there with his icy grin and leans off his clichés. The attack itself is also experienced too small. Those of the July 22 films that follow the real timeline capture more of the infinite hell of the 72 minutes of attack – and which is constantly going on inside those affected. Shrinking the time taken by the terror becomes a harmless event.

In a cinematic presentation, only a few small details are needed for credibility to be lost, and the poor English in July 22 had such an effect. As soon as I turned off the sound, the movie appeared more real, but a whiff of American street cuisine hung in the air anyway. Reconstructing Utøya, on the other hand, made me cry – also good tears, although the movie was not easy to watch.

Watch clips from Reconstructing Utøya here:

Mental strength exercise

One of the four Utøya survivors we meet, Rakel, says what she hopes will happen through the two weeks of filming: “When you exercise, you build up the body. I think of this as a mental strength exercise. ”In the opening, the film questions how we should talk about the terrorist incidents. But the film has achieved something more than asking difficult questions: It has managed to connect here and now with the memory of the unthinkable that happened.

Reconstructing Utøya not only depicts details from the 72 minutes of pure bestiality; In the reconstruction, a bridge is created between those carrying the massacre inside and the rest of us. As the four traumatized youth sit down among the other twelve to eat, everyone knows about the burdensome luggage they have with them at the table. Thus, a connection is created from something as ordinary as a slab of bread with glistening to the attempt to describe it as leaving its deadly shooting brother to save himself, or what the sound of the shots really was.

Reconstructing Utøya put hell and everyday back together.

An iron bar is important because it gives the right association to the experience of real shots – the shots Rakel and the other survivors fail to get out of their heads. Jenny heard them from the assembly hall. She and her boyfriend had interrupted their alone time in the tent to listen to the leaders' information about the bomb in Oslo. The assurances of security at Utøya were replaced by shooting and screams of death. Barbent ran the pair out hand in hand. The girlfriend stopped to help someone – and never came. Jenny had to run away from the approaching shots, alone.

Torje tries to hide with his big brother, but the big brother is shot and Torje has to flee alone. The young boy is one of several who describe seeing the killer – death itself – in the eye.

Mohammed talks about how relaxed the perpetrator was as he executed one by one, with his weapon close to their heads. He stays underwater to drown rather than fall for the killer's shot. As he comes to the surface, he sees the killer's back and his friends lie dead on the water's edge.

Watch clips from Reconstructing Utøya here:


Mohammed has used some of the youngsters in the film studio to play these friends. Now they are lifeless on the floor. Mohammed asks them to open their eyes. It should be so simple, he exclaims – that he could bring them back to life in this way. Mohammed asks the participants to sit on the floor and walk away and sit down with them. The silence that follows fills the whole room with peace.

Javér's method creates a farewell to those who got away so abruptly. It moves parts of the trauma to the black studio floor, where the survivors mark the tape with the frame for what they are able to tell. In addition to setting the boundary for what is to be recreated and felt, the tape also provides an outline of the physical Utøya landscape. We have seen the white stripes on the black floor before, in Lars von Trier's Dogville, which was also about the encounter with human evil.

Torje tells how he pulled his hair out in the forehead to look younger, hoping the killer would save him.

Torje was only fourteen years old when he experienced the massacre. He tells how he pulled his hair out in the forehead to look younger, hoping the killer would save him. This weird detail draws us right into the situation. It creates a deeply touching identification.

The story of Utøya is best told by those who were there. It's not easy. The trauma narrative weighs on – but comfort relieves. In the creation of Reconstructing Utøyathere is room for both single clamps and group clamps. The film puts hell and everyday life back together. We are invited as Utøya victims and "ordinary" youth light campfires and develop cohesion.

Sharing and shared insight ease the burden. The film insists that together, as a team, we can manage to move on. At the same time, it is the survivors, who have mastered both formulation and dissemination, who own this unreal story.

Reconstructing Utøya has a Norwegian premiere on October 19,
July 22, you watch Netflix.

Ellen Lande
Ellen Lande
Lande is a film writer and director and a regular writer for Ny Tid.

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