U – July 22 (Erik Poppe, 2018)

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Lost Highway
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U – July 22 (Erik Poppe, 2018)

#1 Post by Lost Highway » Tue Feb 20, 2018 12:03 pm

I watched U – July 22 at the Berlinale today, mainly because I was free and it’s the only film in competition I had heard of and for which I could get a ticket on the day. It’s a dramatisation along the lines of United 93, of the 2012 massacre on the island Utøya in Norway by Anders Breivik in which 69 people, mostly teenagers, died.

The first half is incredibly tense, but I don’t think the film ever justifies its existence. Turns out that apart of a prologue, which uses news footage of the Oslo car bomb which was the start of Anders Breivik‘s massacre, the film is a one-shot movie like the recentish German movie Victoria. It feels like a real live tragedy is used in the aid of a conceptual gimmick. I felt similarly queasy about Son of Saul‘s experiments with shallow focus and in turn representation of the Holocaust.

By the second half the limitations of director Erik Poppe‘s approach become obvious, there is no room for political context of the terrorist attack, it’s a chase film which deals with tension and suspense the way any horror film or thriller does. I understand the focus on the victims and the almost complete omission of Breivik, but it robs the film of any larger context. Because the film is close to a horror film, you can’t but help to have this movie reflex of blaming characters when they do things which will obviously get them in danger. I didn’t want to have those feelings about the victims, which are purely tied to this being a dramatisation which deals out tension and suspense in a movie way, not to the real event.

Gus Van Sant‘s Elephant and Polytechnique by Denis Villeneuve managed to be more meaningful films based on real life massacres. I didn’t know what the film was telling me apart from getting hunted down by a Nazi with an arsenal of firearms sucks.

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colinr0380
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Re: Festival Circuit 2018

#2 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Feb 20, 2018 5:15 pm

It is interesting to hear you say that the film robs the film of a larger context. Does the film address the idea at all that the real events seem to have involved 'the children of the governing class who are being groomed for leadership roles' who appear to have been those being targeted by Breivik? Or does the film stay in a kind of 'contextless rampage' thriller mode?

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Re: Festival Circuit 2018

#3 Post by Lost Highway » Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:58 pm

colinr0380 wrote:It is interesting to hear you say that the film robs the film of a larger context. Does the film address the idea at all that the real events seem to have involved 'the children of the governing class who are being groomed for leadership roles' who appear to have been those being targeted by Breivik? Or does the film stay in a kind of 'contextless rampage' thriller mode?
The fact that that Breivik was taking out a next generation of liberal politicians (to keep Norway from Islamisation, because I think we have to mention his racist motivation) is only adressed insofar as that the film stays with one character, a girl who talks about wanting to go into politics. But if you don’t know about the background of the massacre, you may not even figure out what the nature of the summer camp was till the titles at the end credits which give a minimum of context.

The film is gut wrenching and intense, but on a purely visceral, horror movie level. It never goes into Breivik‘s motives and he’s only seen once, briefly as a far away silhouette against the sky. The director‘s intention was to focus on the victims and to show Breivik no regard, but I feel that turns the film into a human interest story, rather than being about the right wing extremes of political populism, which probably would honor the victims better.

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Re: U – July 22 (Erik Poppe, 2018)

#4 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Feb 21, 2018 5:09 am

The following all comes with the proviso that I have not seen this film myself yet, but that does sound a bit concerning and would seem to not utilise the real life situation in a way that could offer an insight to an audience. Playing devil's advocate for a moment, would it be that the filmmakers were making the film for a Norwegian audience in particular and considered the situation to be one that 'everyone already knows the background of' (in the manner of a United 93 or World Trade Center film), so they do not feel the need to add that wider context; or would it be more (as it sounds from your write up, Lost Highway) to be the case that they have stripped an event down to its visceral basics (in the manner of a United 93 or World Trade Center film :wink: ) into a framework for their character's subjective experiences?

I am generally all for fictional films focusing on a subjective experience of an event (which is the way that Elephant got around its approach to Columbine. By not being specifically about Columbine. Even though we all know what inspired it), but when it is decided to use a specific event such as this for a film it would seem necessary to have to provide some of that wider context. Because otherwise it would run the risk of reducing a complex event down into 'just another senseless massacre'. It might be understandable to not want to provide a killer with a platform, and to privilege the experience of the victims over them, but at the same time that would seem to prevent any attempt at trying to understand their motivations in performing such an act (however insane they might be), which as you say seems to happen here ends up not really telling the audience any more about the events than it was a bad situation for the victims to have found themselves being caught up inside.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Feb 23, 2018 4:33 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: U – July 22 (Erik Poppe, 2018)

#5 Post by Lost Highway » Wed Feb 21, 2018 6:51 am

colinr0380 wrote:The following all comes with the proviso that I have not seen this film myself yet, but that does sound a bit concerning and would seem to not utilise the real life situation in a way that could offer an insight to an audience. Playing devil's advocate for a moment, would it be that the filmmakers we making the film for a Norwegian audience in particular and considered the situation to be one that 'everyone already knows the background of' (in the manner of a United 93 or World Trade Center film), so they do not feel the need to add that wider context; or would it be more (as it sounds from your write up, Lost Highway) to be the case that they have stripped an event down to its visceral basics (in the manner of a United 93 or World Trade Center film :wink: ) into a framework for their character's subjective experiences?

I am generally all for fictional films focusing on a subjective experience of an event (which is the way that Elephant got around its approach to Columbine. By not being specifically about Columbine), but when it is decided to use a specific event such as this for a film it would seem necessary to have to provide some of that wider context. Because otherwise it would run the risk of reducing a complex event down into 'just another senseless massacre'. It might be understandable to not want to provide a killer with a platform, and to privilege the experience of the victims over them, but at the same time that would seem to prevent any attempt at trying to understand their motivations in performing such an act (however insane they might be), which as you say seems to happen here ends up not really telling the audience any more about the events than it was a bad situation for the victims to have found themselves being caught up inside.
From the massacre, to the trial, to Breivik's claims that his human rights got violated by one of the most lenient legal and punitive systems in the world, the case was well covered by the media in all of Europe. I think Norway simply made its own United 93 but with that film there was heroism to commemorate. The kids in the Utøya massacre never got an opportunity to be heroes. They were picked off by a shooter from afar and had no idea what hit them. According to the director the intention was to honor the victims but is that reason enough to make the film ? By not considering a wider context, the film ends up as exploitation which gets its charge from the knowledge that this horror show was for real. As there isn't that much to the film, I'm not sure how else to analyse this, as there isn't much to it, apart from that the film is well acted and skillfully made enough to be upsetting.

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