Film about mass killing shakes up Berlin Int'l Film Festival

72 minutes of the hour-and-a-half film are in one take, and from the perspective of the shooter.

February 20, 2018 21:15
2 minute read.
Film camera (illustrative)

Film camera (illustrative). (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)


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Many of the movies at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival, have to do with current events, but none could be more timely than Erik Poppe’s U – July 22, a movie about the 2011 massacre of 77 youth group members at Utoya island in Norway.

As television news is filled with images of those killed in the recent school shooting in Florida, this extraordinary movie could not be more harrowing.

It’s a fiction, a dramatization of events, told in real time – the film lasts about 90 minutes, and 72 minutes of that depict what happened as the shooter, who is never seen except from a distance and who is never named in the movie, went on his killing spree.

It’s all one take and is told from the point of view of an ordinary teen named Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) as she searches for her sister, from whom she gets separated in the chaos.

The director said at a press conference Monday that he had worked closely with survivors of the massacre to get the details right. Three of these survivors also attended the press conference and spoke about why it had been important for them to participate in making the film.

Poppe said he was inspired to make the film because he felt that amid all the discussion about the mental health of the killer, Anders Behring Breivik, and what kind of memorial should be built there, “We need to remember what took place on that island.”

After this killing, I remember hearing people questioning how one shooter could have killed so many victims, but when you see the film, it’s very clear. They were teenagers, with no military training, on a wooded island, and they didn’t know what was going on. They didn’t realize that there was only one shooter and the fact that he wore a (homemade) police uniform further confused the victims.

Whether or not U – July 22 wins the festival’s top prize next weekend, this powerful movie will undoubtedly be one of the most talked-about films of the festival.

While the main competition is not yet over, the other film so far that I found impressive was Aleksey German’s Dovlatov, a biopic about a Russian writer who couldn’t get published under the Soviet regime and was a close friend of poet Joseph Brodsky. This brilliant, literary film should find an enthusiastic audience when it is released in Israel.

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