AFI Docs Review: “Wrong Time, Wrong Place”

Dutch filmmaker John Appel looks at the 2011 killing spree by Anders Behring Breivik that claimed the lives of 77 Norwegians.

By: Luke Mullins

Wrong Time, Wrong Place is Dutch filmmaker John Appel’s unique look at the bombing and shooting spree that claimed 77 lives in Norway on July 22, 2011—the deadliest attack the country has witnessed since World War II.

The film, however, isn’t about Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing extremist who detonated a car bomb at a government building in Oslo, Norway’s capital, before opening fire at an island summer camp hosted by a left-leaning political party, killing 69. Instead, Appel uses accounts of five people who experienced the attack to examine the role of fate and coincidence in the massacre.

Through emotional interviews with survivors and victim’s families, viewers learn the heartbreaking tales of those who made it through the day—and those who didn’t. The three students who, by chance, hid from the gunman in a bathroom. The young man whose decision to skip work for a day of base jumping saved his life. And the young woman who never learned to swim whose body was found dead on the shoreline.

It’s a fascinating topic: those split-second, seemingly inconsequential decisions that in the fog of chaos become matters of life and death. Appel committed to exploring this theme even before the tragic events in Norway. “I wanted to make a film about fate and coincidence, and I knew I had to wait for some tragic event to happen, like a plane crash or some very big accident,” he told the Independent last November. After learning of the attacks, he traveled to Norway and became convinced that the massacre produced the stories he needed.

Although poignant at times, Appel’s film can be frustrating. The narrative unfolds at a maddeningly slow pace—an attempt to build dramatic tension that falls flat. The perspectives of the victims are indeed powerful. But by focusing exclusively on the victims, the film fails to put their stories in the context of the tragedy unfolding around them. This creates a confusing storyline for those less familiar with the events of July 22, 2011, in Norway.

Anyone well versed in the horrific events that the story explores will find Appel’s perspective intriguing. Those who aren’t will do well to read up on the tragedy before watching the film.

Playing June 20, 3 PM, at the Newseum, and June 21, 1:30 PM, at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.