VIFF 2018 Review: The Guilty (Den skyldige)
Some of you are wondering when will I finish with my blogs about the VIFF? This is my fourth-last review. The end is coming very soon.
I usually like film that delivers the unexpected. That’s the best thing about the VIFF. The Guilty is a Danish film that delivers on surprises in the best way.
The film begins with Asger Holm operating the emergency call system at the Copenhagen police department. He has his call technology with him which includes the computerized phone system and a monitor consisting of a map mapping out the geographical range of the cellphone calls he receives. His calls are mostly mundane as it’s an evening and of situations that aren’t so violent and more cases of stupidity. Asger also receives the occasional phone calls from his lawyer. Cellphone calls on his personal line are not allowed during his job.
Soon there’s a call he receives that causes him concerned. It’s of a woman named Iben. She first tries to hit on Asger, but we soon learn she’s in the back of an SUV driven by Michael, her ex-husband. The monitor shows her travelling close to the Sjaeland area but there’s no knowledge what the car looks like or the license place. Asger tells police along the route to look out for a white van, which no one finds. Asger researches her ex-husband’s name and finds out he’s a convicted felon. On top of that, Iben has two small children she misses a lot.
We should keep in mind Asger is nearing the end of his shift, and must transfer whatever feedback to the next person who will be working the shifts. Nevertheless Asger sticks to it. Asger sends police to the house to tend to the small children while he tries to get police to chase the van. Asger receives a phone call from the police who visited the house. The police found the daughter with blood all over her but no wound. However they found the infant son dead with stab wounds all over him. Asger is convinced that Michael committed the murder. Asger learns the van has stopped and tells Iben to get something where she can hit Michael on the head as part of an escape. She does so. When Michael calls in about being hit on the head, Asger lashes out at him and hangs up.
Now that Iben has escaped, it’s a matter of keeping her in a single location until the police arrive. Meanwhile Asger receives distracting phone calls from his lawyer about his trial for tomorrow. Asger will go on trial for the wrongful shooting death of a 19 year-old. Right while Asger is keeping Iben on the line, he learns a shocking result. Iben thought there were snakes inside her infant son. So she took a knife and stabbed him to cut them loose. Asger now has more to deal with. He first has to let his fellow police know of the shocking turn of events. He also has to deal with Michael and reassure him that he now accuses him of nothing and to stay calm. Also Iben now wants to jump into the coast water, now realizing the terrible thing she did. Asger reassures him and keeps her calm. Asger even tells her about the wrong he is about to face the music about. It works as Asger is able to keep Iben on the line and for police to come to her. The ordeal finally ended on the right note as Asger walks off.
This is more than just a detective story. This is a film that allows us to be the judge and jury of the whole action too. All we have is Asger on the phone, the police computer screens and those on the phone Asger converses with. The story is successful in giving us a scenario where we all think a common thing and make common assumptions: that Iben is abducted by her ex-husband, that Michael murdered his infant son, that Michael will murder Iben next. However it’s right in the middle that we are reminded that what we think we know is not the true story. I even remember hear gasps or reactions of shock in the audience when it was made clear that Iben killed her infant son. That is the top quality of the story. With it being in one location and consisting of telephone conversations adding to the story, it allows us to confront what we thought we knew and shock us with the truth that we don’t see, but hear. Also the cellphone conversations to Asger along the side appear to be distractions to the story at first, but later prove vital in telling the story about Asger. It too gives us our own thoughts at the beginning, but later reveals a truth we didn’t know.
I have seen a lot of single-location films before. However I thought for the longest time that it would be next to impossible to do a single-location feature-length film. This film proved me wrong. It may have switched rooms on occasion, but it kept the story within the same building and was able to use it with the use of cellphones or computer terminals. The phone conversations that deliver the unseen drama work to the quality of the film and help make the story. I know I said the film’s gift is working with what we don’t know or what we assume at first. Everything in which the film did helped make the story work for us and kept us glued to our seat.
The story is not only about what happens through the phone conversations. The story is also about Asger Holm. When the film begins, we first think it’s about an officer assisting on an emergency line at the police station and that the story is mostly about Iben. Later on we learn the story is also about Asger. We are led to believe that emergency operator is his assigned job. We often wonder why Asger won’t leave the crime situation to others, even after he’s told his shift is over. We wonder if he cares about being fired. It’s later we learn that Asger has a blemish too. The following day, Asger will need to go on trial for the shooting death of a 19 year-old. We soon understand his phone operations are not his job. It’s because he has been demoted since the shooting incident. As for continuing with dealing with Iben, it appears more than just sticking to it and doing the right thing despite the risks to his job. I think he knows this day will be his last day of any kind of police work and that may be the additional reason why he’s doing it. He know that his career will end with a blemish and I believe he wants his last act of police work to be a job of dignity. At the end of the film, he is not acknowledged at all by his co-workers and walks off. Nevertheless we in the audience know the excellent work he did. It is quite something how a policeman about to face trial becomes the one who prevents Iben from committing suicide and puts her in the right hands.
This film is an excellent work by Gustav Moller. This is actually Moller’s first-ever feature length film with only brief experience doing a short and two television episodes. This film he directs and co-writes with Emil Nygaard Albertsen who’s also mostly known for work in TV and shorts really delivers on the story and is excellent pieced together. The story becomes like a puzzle that needs to be pieced together piece-by-piece and it succeeds greatly in piecing it all together. Also excellent is the acting from Jakob Cedergren. The story is him, the computers and the phone calls he receives. Being the one who centres on the crime story as well as other stories that surround him through outside cellphone calls, he makes the story work and makes it interesting. He helps us focus on the situation and makes what could be a boring story interesting, thrilling and even thought-provoking. Also excellent was the acting of Jessica Dinnage. There’s no physical acting here. The only acting we have of Jessica is her voice through her cellphone calls. Nevertheless her voice-acting was perfect in both telling the story and in embodying the character. Her voice over the phone and the things Iben said really made the unexpected drama happen.
The Guilty is Denmark’s entry in the Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film. The film won the Audience Awards at Sundance as well as a nominee for the Grand Jury Prize. The film has also won a wide variety of awards at other film festivals such as the Critics Choice Award at the Zurich Film Fest, the Special Circle Jury award at the Washington DC Film Fest, the IFFR Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Fest and the World Cinema Winner at the Montclair Film Fest.
The Guilty is a remarkable film. Not just because of how it’s filmed on a single location, but also because of how it reminds us what we think is not what’s fact. Definitely an unforgettable eighty-five minutes.
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