Erik Poppe's widely anticipated "Utøya 22. juli" ("U - 22 july" in international markets) is finally getting a DVD and VOD release later this week after a very sparse theatrical run this summer. It is an incredibly important movie, carried by a few strong performances and some brilliant photography, shot over a single, 72-minute-long take. Be warned - it will take your breath away.
U -22 is one of the most important movies of the autumn, and definitely one not to be missed. It is also an extremely heavy tour de force (definitely not something I'd watch on a date), which should really be experienced with headphones on and lights off.
The movie opens with Kaja (played by first-time actor Andrea Bertzen) and her friends discussing about the aftermath of Oslo's 22 july terrorist explosion. Unbeknown to the teenage group, however, the perpetrator has landed on the small island of Utøya; and this summer holiday full of beautiful people is about to turn into one of Europe's worst tragedies since World War II.
The attack on Utøya lasted 72 minutes, which is also the film's actual running time. It feels, however, many times longer than that. The subtle color grading and the gray-tinted, no-frills photography, along with the complete lack of a soundtrack and of any cuts, make this one of the most gripping and stressing experiences I've ever sat through.
To take a tragedy of this magnitude and make a film about it is definitely a daunting endeavour. "Utøya 22. juli" largely succeeds thanks to a very human treatment of some extremely complex political themes, and most of all thanks to the incredible performances of the entire ensemble cast, which are amongst the best I have ever seen.
Unlike many other similar works (including Paul Greengrass' upcoming "22 july") "Utøya 22. juli" does not fall into any of the 'hostage movie' clichés: there are no ham-fisted deep conversations, no heroic speeches, no last-ditch stands and no rousing music as a police helicopter sweeps across the sky. This is a movie about a real tragedy, which it tackles with dignity and courage.
One scene in particular, which I won't spoil here, is particularly heart-breaking. Solveig Koløen Birkeland, who won a 'best supporting actress' Amanda Award for this one take, delivers an absolutely stunning performance, and despite the lack of any music or sound cues you'll know exactly when to start crying.
And yes, there is a lot to cry about here. Just seven years after the tragedy at Utøya, Europe's collective memory is already moving on - and movies like this run the risk of being prematurely forgotten as well. "Utøya 22. juli" is not a blockbuster production: it got an incredibly restricted release throughout Western Europe and the Balcans, and didn't even hit the theater circuit in the United States. With its botched distribution deals, this is a movie that remains incredibly difficult to get (it's not even on torrent...), and most people will never see it.
Which is a shame, because this is an incredible movie on multiple counts. It is very rare to have a production whose cast consist entirely of first-time actors deliver such an incredible array of performances. It is even more rare when the production in question is shot over a single, 72-minutes long take - leaving very little room for mistakes. The choice of not having any music is incredibly courageous, and so is the decision to never actually show the murderer's face on camera. Sure, the ending is definitely more bitter than sweet; and yes, this movie is really really hard to find at the moment.
But you should definitely try to get your hands on a copy, because "Utøya 22. juli" is an incredible work of art, an amazing piece of cinema, a technical triumph and an incredibly deep and delicate movie all at once. I did not think it was possible to fit a tragedy of this scope inside a screen - but I was mistaken. "Utøya 22. juli" is full of dignity, beauty, respect and - despite everything - hope.
If you liked this you should see: Elephant, Victoria
Where to watch in Amsterdam: Het Ketelhuis (Westerpark), Kinepolis Huizen (Almere)