Far­away hor­ror brings ex­trem­ism home

Paul Green­grass’ film ‘22 July’ ex­plores ‘po­lit­i­cal ty­phoon’ of Nor­way ter­ror at­tack.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Josh Rot­ten­berg

It’s safe to say vir­tu­ally ev­ery Nor­we­gian can re­mem­ber where they were on July 22, 2011. That was the day a lone-wolf far-right ter­ror­ist named An­ders Behring Breivik set off a car bomb in the gov­ern­ment dis­trict of Oslo and later opened fire on a sum­mer camp on the nearby is­land of Utoya, killing 77 peo­ple in the coun­try’s dead­li­est at­tack since World War II.

Ac­tor An­ders Danielsen Lie, who plays Breivik in di­rec­tor Paul Green­grass’ new film about the at­tack and its af­ter­math, “22 July” — which is play­ing in the­aters and avail­able on Net­flix — was at a wed­ding that day in north­ern Nor­way. “I spent most of the day on the phone try­ing to make sure that all my friends and fam­ily were safe in Oslo,” he says.

Jonas Strand Gravli, who plays Vil­jar Hanssen, a young sur­vivor of the shoot­ings, was driv­ing to a cabin out­side Oslo that day with friends. “I just wanted to get back to Oslo,” he says. “I feel like ev­ery Nor­we­gian was af­fected by it in some way. Ev­ery­one knew some­one who knew some­one.”

Like many out­side Nor­way, the Bri­tish Green­grass — who, along with di­rect­ing three in­stall­ments in the “Bourne” ac­tion fran­chise, has dra­ma­tized real-life at­tacks in such films as “Bloody Sun­day,” “United 93” and “Cap­tain Phillips” —

heard the news from afar but didn’t fol­low it par­tic­u­larly closely at the time. It wasn’t un­til a few years later, when he was try­ing to de­velop a pro­ject about the global mi­gra­tion cri­sis, that he be­gan to re­search the event in more depth.

“I’d had a lot of fun do­ing the Bourne movies but, from time to time, I’ve done films that are try­ing to ex­plore the world around me as I see it,” Green­grass says. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought the mi­gra­tion cri­sis was only one part of a big­ger prob­lem: this po­lit­i­cal ty­phoon run­ning through Western democ­ra­cies, a fullscale re­volt against glob­al­iza­tion that’s lead­ing to right-wing pop­ulism, pro­tec­tion­ism, na­tion­al­ism and the pol­i­tics of iden­tity. And the more I started to think about that, the more I homed in on Breivik as the mo­ment when that be­came clear.”

Green­grass read journalist Asne Seier­stad’s book about the at­tacks, “One of Us,” and pored over Breivik’s court­room tes­ti­mony about his mo­ti­va­tion, in which he re­morse­lessly railed against mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and claimed that elit­ist “cul­tural Marx­ists” had used Nor­way as “a dump­ing ground for the sur­plus births of the third world.”

“It was all that rank bag of prej­u­dices,” Green­grass says. “But as I read it, I thought, ‘This is amaz­ing — in 2011, those opin­ions would have been con­sid­ered in the wild mar­gins of po­lit­i­cal dis­course. To­day, not Breivik’s meth­ods but his world­view, that in­tel­lec­tual frame­work, is now in the main­stream.’ I thought, ‘Oh, this is not the story of a right-wing ter­ror­ist at­tack; it’s the story of how Nor­way re­sponded, and that’s re­ally a story about us to­day and to­mor­row.’ ”

Hav­ing di­rected 2006’s “United 93,” which chron­i­cled the hi­jack­ing of that flight on Sept. 11, 2001, Green­grass was in­tensely aware of the sen­si­tiv­ity re­quired to make a film about a trau­matic event still so fresh in peo­ple’s minds.

The di­rec­tor set about meet­ing with Nor­way’s for­mer prime min­is­ter, Jens Stoltenberg, who is the sec­re­tary gen­eral of NATO, and with the fam­i­lies of vic­tims and sur­vivors of the at­tack. His aim, he told them, was to raise aware­ness of the po­lit­i­cal dan­gers that the at­tacks high­lighted, not to ex­ploit the tragedy for mere en­ter­tain­ment. He promised to work with an en­tirely Nor­we­gian cast and crew and to de­pict the at­tacks with a del­i­cate bal­ance of un­flinch­ing, doc­u­men­tary-style hor­ror and ju­di­cious re­straint.

“I re­mem­ber, in one meet­ing, a gen­tle­man got up, a father whose daugh­ter had died,” Green­grass says. “He said, ‘I strongly sup­port mak­ing this film, but I do not want you to san­i­tize what hap­pened be­cause you would be dis­re­spect­ing my daugh­ter, and she would not want it ei­ther. On the other hand, I don’t want you to sen­sa­tion­al­ize it or triv­i­al­ize it or be gra­tu­itous. If you make this film, you’re go­ing to have to make sense of that— and I’ll judge you.’ I said, ‘You’re ex­actly right.’ ”

Many who were di­rectly im­pacted by the at­tacks sup­ported Green­grass’ film, re­gard­ing the prospect of a ma­jor film­maker re­count­ing the story in English as the best op­por­tu­nity to get it out to a wide in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence. (The film fol­lows a Nor­we­gian-made drama­ti­za­tion of the at­tack, “U — July 22,” which has had lim­ited re­lease out­side the coun­try.) Still, not ev­ery­one in Nor­way was com­fort­able with the idea early on, and a pe­ti­tion to try to stop the pro­duc­tion gath­ered some 20,000 sig­na­tures.

“I think, as a Nor­we­gian, it will al­ways feel like this is too soon,” says Gravli. “But I think it’s im­por­tant to make this now be­cause, even though this is a film about a lo­cal at­tack, it has a global im­pact. The far-right ex­trem­ist views are still on the rise in the world, and I think it’s im­por­tant to keep talk­ing about them and what they cost us in Nor­way.”

Lie had his own hes­i­ta­tion about play­ing Breivik, who was sen­tenced to 21 years in pri­son with the pos­si­bil­ity of one or more ex­ten­sions for as long as he is deemed a dan­ger to so­ci­ety, the max­i­mum penalty un­der Nor­we­gian law. But in the end, he de­cided it was im­por­tant to try to con­vey what Han­nah Arendt, writ­ing about the trial of Nazi SS of­fi­cer Adolf Eich­mann, called “the ba­nal­ity of evil.” (In one of the film’s more qui­etly chill­ing mo­ments, Breivik calmly tells the po­lice who have just cap­tured him that he sus­tained a small cut on his fin­ger in the at­tack and needs a BandAid.)

“When a per­son has done some­thing like this, we want him to be a mon­ster; we don’t want him to be hu­man,” says Lie, who tried to set up a meet­ing with Breivik when he was pre­par­ing for the role but was de­clined. “Watch­ing his tes­ti­mony, I was see­ing a per­son be­hav­ing in a to­tally nor­mal fash­ion most of the time, and I felt nausea. I felt like I had a re­spon­si­bil­ity for the peo­ple af­fected by the tragedy to cre­ate a truth­ful and hon­est por­trait of this per­son.”

From the pro­ject’s ear­li­est stages, Netf lix — which is mak­ing a con­certed push into the awards sea­son con­ver­sa­tion this fall with films such as “22 July,” Al­fonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and the Coen brothers’ “The Bal­lad of Buster Scruggs” — threw its full sup­port be­hind it. Some direc­tors of Green­grass’ stature may have shied away from the com­pany’s dis­tri­bu­tion model, in which films are of­fered on its stream­ing ser­vice at the same time they are re­leased the­atri­cally, if they are re­leased the­atri­cally. But Green­grass saw it as the best way to get a film that, given its har­row­ing sub­ject mat­ter and for­eign set­ting, might oth­er­wise strug­gle to find an au­di­ence — par­tic­u­larly among young peo­ple.

“I’ve got young adult kids, 15 up to 30s, and they all were like, ‘Dad, Net­flix is the fu­ture,’ ” Green­grass says. “I re­mem­ber my son, who’s a stu­dent, say­ing, ‘None of my friends will go see this movie in an art-house cinema. But if it’s on Net­flix, they’ll all watch it.’ ”

Green­grass has made a hand­ful of movies, in­clud­ing the “Bourne” films, engi­neered to de­liver a fun time at the mul­ti­plex. “22 July,” with its de­pic­tion of the cold­blooded mur­der of nearly 70 in­no­cent young peo­ple at a sum­mer camp, is de­cid­edly not one of them. Though he’s not sure what pro­ject he’ll tackle next, Green­grass says with a grim smile, “Not some­thing that in­volves death and de­struc­tion, that’s for sure. A bit more like a round on the dance floor, I think.”

Nev­er­the­less, while “22 July” may be the fur­thest thing from a mind­less Hol­ly­wood con­fec­tion to dis­tract from these po­lit­i­cally tur­bu­lent times, Green­grass hopes its story of per­se­ver­ance and com­mit­ment to higher ideals in the face of ha­tred and ter­ror will leave au­di­ences in­spired.

“I didn’t want to make a bleak, ni­hilis­tic film,” he says. “These events hap­pen and they’re ter­ri­ble, but they’re part of our world and they have to be con­fronted and over­come. And they will be.”

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

PAUL GREEN­GRASS, who di­rected three “Bourne” films, wrote and di­rected “22 July” af­ter re­al­iz­ing the event was more than a right-wing ter­ror­ist at­tack.

Erik Aavatsmark Netf lix

ISAK BAKLI AGLEN, left, and Jonas Strand Gravli star in the Paul Green­grass film “22 July,” which is in the­aters across the U.S. and stream­ing on Net­flix.

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