Reconstructing Utøya (Rekonstruktion Utøya)
A question is posed in the opening crawl of Reconstructing Utøya (which also establishes the premise and structure of this forceful documentary): “How can we understand?” The simple answer is that it cannot ever be comprehensively understood why Anders Behring Breivik massacred 69 young people on the Norwegian island of Utøya in July 2011, but the documentary gives a platform for several survivors of the attack to process the horrifying events of that day, which in turn allows the audience a greater insight into the emotional scars that the survivors must live with. Despite this heavy material, Reconstructing Utøya is an uplifting and compassionate experience.
Director Carl Javér has assembled four survivors of the attack (Rakel Mortensdatter Birkeli, Mohammed Saleh, Jenny Andersen and Torje Hansen) in what is described as a film camp, with each survivor leading a theatre workshop that recreates their personal experiences from 22 July 2011. It’s an efficiently straightforward premise that is then played out four times in a row, although there is never a sense of repetition. The participants discuss their detailed memories of the day with striking candour, in a manner that is both enlightening and horrifying. Rakel talks about how when hiding from the gunman, she looked down and noticed a snail crawling up her bleeding leg, she felt a surge of optimism, since whatever happened to her that day, whether she lived or died, nature will continue.
It’s an upsetting and highly compelling film that couldn’t ever be classified as easy to watch, and yet the documentary is never exploitative, and has a strong sense of hopefulness, of assimilating the pain of the past and embracing the future. It shouldn’t be forgotten that most of the victims and survivors were teenagers, practically children, and the format of allowing them to lead (to direct) their own reconstructions of their recollections of Utøya is perhaps a way of granting them a sense of control over their fractious memories. When asked if he ever just wants to be able to definitively move on from his thoughts of the tragedy, Mohammed talks about how his conscience won’t let him ever forget. Reconstructing Utøya offers an effective and powerful means of helping the survivors at least make peace with what they went through.
Reconstructing Utøya does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.