The instances of graphic violence in the opening scenes of Paul Greengrass’ “22 July” and in shards of memory are restrained. There is sear beauty and troubling tension in his evocation of Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack—concentrated, calm, fated—capturing a far-right terrorist’s detonation of a car bomb in central Oslo and the mass shooting at a teen leadership camp on the nearby island of Utøya which took seventy-seven lives in 2011. Adapting “One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway—and Its Aftermath” by Åsne Seierstad and working with Norwegian actors and a Norwegian crew, Greengrass reveals his recurrent theme: the community banding against an oppressor or aggressor. “22 July” is no exception to the lineage of “Bloody Sunday,” “Captain Phillips” and “United 93.” In the aftermath, Greengrass contrasts the obstinacy of the terrorist—played by the innately charming Anders Danielsen Lie, from Joachim Trier’s “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st”—with the life afterwards of one teenage survivor Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). Aftershocks echo through family and school and town and nation—the Prime Minister and the actions of he and his cabinet are key to the narrative. Greengrass worked both with the 22 July Family Support Group and with the permission and cooperation of Hanssen, and the elemental restraint of his filmmaking reflects that attention. Showing one survivor’s recovery against the extremist assertions of the murderer is an understated, elegant way to demonstrate the hope and possibility that violent rightwing extremism can be confronted and, in small ways and large, defeated. The final shots are silent triumph. In Netflix’s press kit, Greengrass concludes a description of his aims with the observation, “Lessons are for school. Morals are for fables.” (An earlier Norwegian film, “Utøya 22. juli,” depicted the killings through one teenage girl’s perspective, including an unbroken seventy-two-minute take, the duration of the terrorist attack on the island.) With Jon Øigarden, Jonas Strand Gravli, Maria Bock, Thorbjørn Harr, Ola G. Furuseth, Seda Witt, Isak Bakli Aglen. 143m. (Ray Pride)
“22 July” is playing at Landmark Century and streaming on Netflix.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.