Review: Generation Utøya
by Marta Bałaga
- The well-meaning film by Aslaug Holm and Sigve Endresen brings little new to the table
Every country has one: a moment that took its supposed innocence away for good, showing something that nobody wanted to see before. From the JFK assassination to, indeed, the 2011 Norway attacks, such national traumas are then re-examined over and over again, in books and in films, as if coming back to what happened could also explain why it did. It never does, not really. But that surely won’t stop people from trying.
The tragedy in Norway, especially the attack on the summer camp on Utøya (organised by the youth division of the Norwegian Labour Party) has been dissected quite a few times already – most famously in Erik Poppe’s Berlinale premiere, although perhaps Paul Greengrass’ 22 July [+see also:
film profile] should be granted the top spot instead. Either way, directors Aslaug Holm and Sigve Endresen literally return to the island once more, following four women who survived the attacks, insisting for some reason on filming them looking wistfully into the distance. Their decision to include a summary of what everyone already knows is baffling at this point, as is the choice of showing the perpetrator, who frankly shouldn’t be shown at all, his smirk still terrifying after all these years. The short recaps of where each ran or hid on that day also strike as familiar, especially after the pretty self-explanatory Reconstructing Utøya [+see also:
film profile]. Yes, it has all been dissected quite a few times already.
However, once this is all out of the way, Generation Utøya – shown in Hot Docs’ Systems Down section – finally starts forging its own path, concentrating not so much on the painful past as on these women’s present and possible future. While sounding grandiose, this also mirrors the future of their entire country, still reeling and yet surprisingly forgetful. Forgetting is a luxury these women will never be granted, that much is clear, not after their ordeal. That is why some of them turn to activism and politics, to try and make sure that others won’t forget, either – at least not on their watch, and not if they can help it.
Predictably enough, this is a frustrating endeavour, and one that doesn’t quite let them move on. It’s an interesting paradox, frequently discussed by Holocaust victims too – although they want to be “much more than a survivor”, in many cases, this experience has changed them for good. “Having someone try to kill me because of my beliefs did affect me,” admits one of them, while another confesses that following the shooting, not having a navel anymore can be funny. They project strength, but they also talk about their perceived shortcomings, the “perfect girl syndrome”, racism and climate change. Just like the students advocating for gun control after surviving a school shooting, they have seen way too much to just shake it all off. But they have also seen way too much to remain naïve, and their sentences often begin with “I’m an optimist, but…”
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