Review: Wrong Time Wrong Place (2012)

Director: John Appel | 80 minutes | documentary

Dressed in a kind of bat suit, a man jumps off a high mountain into the depths. He floats through a mountain landscape, where he can almost touch the treetops. This thrill seeker lets himself be carried away by the elements. He literally jumps into the risk. Usually it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. Yngve can no longer share his passion for base jumping with others: he smashed himself while doing what he loved to do. But that is little comfort for his father Harald, who, since his son’s death, prefers to avoid risks. That you cannot always outsmart fate, is evident from the fact that the same Harald went to work at the Ministry of Justice in Oslo on July 22, 2011, the day that Anders Breivik committed an attack there. Harald can still retell it, but has almost become blind due to the flying debris and also lost some colleagues after his son. Yet he has come out stronger, according to the vital man in his sixties.

Harald is one of the people who speak in ‘Wrong Time Wrong Place’ (2012), the opening film of the IDFA 2012 in which John Appel addresses the (emergency) fate, and in particular the role that coincidence plays in it. . Appel, known for documentaries such as “She Believes in Me” (1999) and “The Player” (2009), had been thinking about making a film about the role of chance in life for years. He was really only looking for a disaster or event to hang everything on. It may sound very crude, but for the filmmaker the attacks in Norway came as a godsend. In “Wrong Time Wrong Place” he gives the floor to survivors and next of kin. In addition, it is not so much an eyewitness account, although thanks to the stories of the victims you get enough of how they must have felt and the video images that the people on the other side of the island of Utoya made speak volumes. However, Appel focuses mainly on the question to what extent coincidence has played a part here. What if Ugandan political activist Ritah, who was two months pregnant during the attacks, had not accepted the invitation of the Norwegian socialist youth movement? What if they, the Norwegian Hakon and the Kurdish Hajin hadn’t taken shelter in the toilets? What if the Georgian Tamta had listened more to her mother, who already sensed that something was going to happen to her daughter? Or if she had waited two more minutes for her friend Natia and found a safe hiding place with her?

The twist of fate is something elusive. Everyone deals with it differently and that is also what Appel tries to show in his film. Tamta’s mother comes to terms with her daughter’s death by searching for an explanation, even pulling out ancient prophetic writings, much to her husband’s dismay. Tamta’s father has a much more down-to-earth attitude: he doesn’t believe in destiny. His daughter has been murdered and the perpetrator will have to pay for it, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. No wonder we see him later in the courtroom where Breivik is being interrogated: he will only rest if the perpetrator is given a punishment appropriate to the crimes he has committed. Ritah explains the fact that she can still retell the events on the basis of her pregnancy. She gave the boy the name Michael even before he was born, after the archangel – her saving angel. After the attacks in Norway she returned to Uganda, where her life was again in danger (Appel deliberately does not ask about this because it could endanger Ritah’s family). The day after the director had tracked her down, he interviewed the heavily pregnant African in an asylum seekers’ center, in Goes in Zeeland. Another day later she gave birth to Michael. Talk about coincidence.

“Wrong Time Wrong Place” is a plea for the attitude to life that you should not avoid risks, because the factor of chance always plays a role. Appel underlines this once again by also getting Halvard in front of his camera. He too works at the Ministry of Justice, just like Harald. But he just took a day off on July 22 to go… base jumping. A year after the attacks, Utoya is as peaceful as it has always been before. It is hard to imagine that this idyllic part of Norway would ever experience a disaster of such proportions, and yet it happened. Life cannot be predicted. By telling small stories about chance and destiny, Appel makes one of the greatest dramas in recent European history tangible. He also gives it extra depth due to his unique approach. His sober and honest approach and the space he gives to the people he interviews, show respect for a subject that is actually incomprehensible. With “Wrong Time Wrong Place John Appel proves once again that he can be counted among the best documentary makers in the Netherlands.

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