22 July offers timely reminder of old horror, fresh fears

Movie Review: 22 July – New on Netflix

Paul Greengrass’s restrained vérité treatment of the July 22 massacre at a Norwegian kids camp lassos truth of tragedy by showing us the banal face of evil and the chilling effect of fear.

22 July

4/5

Starring: Jonas Strand Gravli, Isak Bakli Aglen, Seda Witt, Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Oigarden, Thorbjorn Harr, Maria Bock

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Running time: 2 hrs 23 mins

Netflix original, debuting October 10, 2018

By Katherine Monk

For Norwegians, 22 July is a date that will never be forgotten. For the rest of us, we need a reminder. It’s the day a far Right extremist detonated a bomb at the government building in Oslo, then posed as a police officer and systematically killed children at a camp for young leaders. By the end of 22 July, 77 people were dead and hundreds more were injured.

We should remember the date well, but just three months later, the World Trade Centre was reduced to rubble and the world changed. For the worse. In the years since 2001, fear has transformed our everyday reality, as well as our expectations surrounding personal freedom. We’re learning to surrender bits and pieces of personal expression in the name of security while we get used to the idea of demonizing others.

We need a reminder of what fundamentally changed within us, and thanks to Paul Greengrass, we get a glimpse at the icy threshold in 22 July. The title signals how he handles the language dilemma: he takes the Norwegian form, casting local actors and shooting on location, but he translates it into English.

In the years since 2001, fear has transformed our everyday reality… We need a reminder of what fundamentally changed within us, and thanks to Paul Greengrass, we get a glimpse at the icy threshold in 22 July.

It’s a bit awkward at first, listening to an entire cast speak with a curving Scandinavian accent, but it succeeds in its bid for authenticity, in the mise-en-scene as well as the whole mood. There’s an undeniable and unavoidable bleakness when you shoot winter scenes in the North. The sun hangs low over pale skies, and people end up looking so much smaller, so much more alone, against a snow white landscape.

The cold becomes the ambient, defining element, and the subconscious presence that finds human form in the neo-Nazi terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie). We have to watch the horror of his actions in the first scenes. Watch him stalk and execute teen after teen after teen without so much as flinching in the face of their desperation. We also have to hear him speak at length about Europe being overrun by outsiders, and his will to see an all-white Norway. It’s upsetting and all-too familiar rhetoric, and Greengrass (Bourne Identity, United 93), much to the chagrin of some critics, doesn’t decorate it with any gratifying sense of judgment or condemnation.

Instead, he seeds these barren scenes with humanity. Through the character of Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli) and his family, we feel the warmth of love and its redemptive power. Viljar was shot several times and lives with bullet fragments in his skull, but he found the strength to testify against the killer because he needed to speak for his dead friends. It’s his testimony that people remember, because within it we’re given back the power that gunmen take away. It’s the will to face fear without a weapon, and a faith in the rule of law.

Viljar was shot several times and lives with bullet fragments in his skull, but he found the strength to testify against the killer because he needed to speak for his dead friends. It’s his testimony that people remember, because within it we’re given back the power that gunmen take away. It’s the will to face fear without a weapon, and a faith in the rule of law.

Greengrass highlights this central theme in the courtroom drama that forms a chunk of the film, but he pulls it all the way through the arc of the story by remaining detailed, fact-based and reportorial instead of exploiting the deep reserves of emotional content at his fingertips. He wants us to know the truth, without hyperbole, because we have to see the lack of grandeur in the terrorist act. There is only human suffering, and the chill lasts forever.

Greengrass captures it all with very little. Like the heavy wool sweaters on the members of Vijar’s family, he hand knits a story that shows us how small, human connections, made one by one and with care and patience, can change the fabric of society and keep the chill of fear at bay.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, October 10, 2018

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Summary

Paul Greengrass’s restrained vérité treatment of the July 22 massacre at a Norwegian kids camp lassos truth of tragedy by showing us the banal face of evil and the chilling effect of fear. This focus on the rule of law is explored in the courtroom drama that forms a chunk of the film, but Greengrass pulls it all the way through the arc of the story by remaining detailed, fact-based and reportorial instead of exploiting the deep reserves of emotional content at his fingertips. He wants us to know the truth, without hyperbole, because we have to see the lack of grandeur in the terrorist act. There is only human suffering, and the chill lasts forever. -- Katherine Monk

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