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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.

Still of Wrong Time, Wrong Place via AFI Docs.

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.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.