22 July

Dispatches from the Venice Film Festival: 22 July is a Must-See

On the 22nd of July 2011, 77 people were killed when Anders Behring Breivik, a  far-right extremist, detonated a car bomb in Oslo before carrying out a mass shooting at a leadership camp for teens on the island of Utøya. The Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Paul Greengrass tells the true story of the aftermath of Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack.

22 July is a must-see film that will be available on Netflix, that is based upon the book One of Us: The Story of an Attack in Norway – and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad. Greengrass chooses to narrate the harrowing event through the perspective of one survivor’s physical and emotional journey (Viljar Hanssen), as an allegory of Norway’s path to healing and reconciliation.

Like in his previous films — Captain Phillips, Bloody Sunday and United 93 — the director portrays real people and real events on the silver screen. This is to convey what he calls the “DNA of our times,” and he truly provides goosebumps to viewers who observe how the cinematic tool  remains connected to the real world and addresses it unflinchingly.

The bloodshed in the film is restrained, although there are a few graphic depictions of violence. But they involved the story of Viljar Hanssen, and were included with his permission — since the boy’s confrontation with Breivik in court was a moment that many people remembered.

Following his cinema verité approach, Greengrass selected an all-Norwegian cast and crew, as he explained “It was vital that the film had a Norwegian soul. A Norwegian identity. In my mind what I wanted was Norway’s wonderful rich and diverse creative community to tell Norway’s story to the world. That in essence is what they have done.”

The Norwegian casting director, Ellen Michelsen, gathered an array of talented Norwegian actors that include: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Øigarden, Thorbjørn Harr, Jonas Strand Gravli, Ola G. Furuseth, Ulrikke Hansen Døvigen, Isak Bakli Aglen, Maria Bock, Tone Danielsen, Sonja Sofie Sinding, Turid Gunnes, Kenan Ibrahamefendic, Monica Borg Fure, Ingrid Enger Damon, Seda Witt, Anja Maria Svenkerud, Hasse Lindmo. Several of these performers met the characters they played and discussed their approach for the roles. Only Anders Danielsen Lie did not meet Breivik, who is notoriously imprisoned with particularly high security — though Danielsen did discuss the terrorist with people involved in the case.

The real survivors of the horrific 2011 attacks shaped 22 July, not only by talking with the actors but also with the director. Greengrass met them at the Family Support Group Board, where he explained the reasons that triggered him to make this movie. Furthermore, throughout the filmmaking process he was in regular contact with the victims of the attacks, seeking their advice and keeping them informed on the film’s progress.

July 22 — produced by Scott Rudin, P.G.A., Paul Greengrass, P.G.A., Gregory Goodman, P.G.A., and Eli Bush, P.G.A. — prompts humanity to ponder upon the historical moment we are living in. Xenophobia is trying to sweep away multiculturalism, as political extremism is spreading perilously across the Western world. However there is room for hope, as Paul Greengrass said: “The way the people of Norway responded after the attacks, which is what our film is really about — the way politicians, lawyers and most importantly those families caught up in the violence responded — can inspire all of us with their dignity and their tenacious commitment to democracy.