Ellen Lande
Ellen is a film director and freelance film critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

If you can only bear watching one film about Utøya, Reconstructing Utøya is worth the wait.

Reconstructing Utøya (work in progress)

Carl Javér

Fredrik Lange

Sweden, 2018

This is an observational documentary and the article is based on segments from the work in progress.


The movie theatre in Filmens Hus in Oslo, Norway is painfully empty of people. Only a score or so have found their way to the work-in-progress meeting with the three men who represent the Scandinavian team behind the documentary film Reconstructing Utøya. Has the saturation point for reconstructions of the 2011 Utøya summer camp massacre already been reached?

The method

The scanty attendance feels embarrassing and awkward. The Swedish director Carl Javér is seated in a chair on stage as he presents the method of making this «observational documentary.» With his regular producer Fredrik Lange from the Vilda Bomben production company, he speaks of the two weeks spent filming in a blackened studio at FilmCamp, deep in Troms county, Norway. Five surviving youths have participated. Four of them have directed twelve other youths in order to create their own reconstructions of events. They’ve used white floor-marking tape to delineate landscape features. I start having doubts. Is the concept too absurdist for the context? Have they lifted the black floor and the white tape straight out of Lars von Trier’s Dogville – the film that depicts how far human cruelty can go when there are no consequences? Are artistic approaches to this sensitive issue at all appropriate?

Reconstructing Utøya (work in progress) Director: Carl Javér

A reconstruction

Before I have time to pursue my train of thought any further, the team wants to show us segments of a reconstruction from the film. The setting, as promised, is a blackened studio. A young woman with translucent skin and bright, sorrow-laden eyes appears. She immediately catches my attention. Her salty, northern dialect contrasts sharply with her frail appearance. Speaking to the young actors under her charge, she recalls a moment of camaraderie with her northern friends who passed away in the attack. They chanted, «Torsk og Hyse, Torsk og Hyse» («Cod and haddock, cod and haddock»). The chant sounds wonderfully life affirming and defiant. The young woman recounts how she and her friends were eagerly anticipating the disco dance that was supposed to be held that night at the Utøya summer camp, but which never took place.

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