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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.

guilty

The Guilty is a unique drama which centres on the officer (played by Jakob Cedergren) and the voices he hears through his headset.

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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This blog is dedicated to Uncle Rick,

My Blog’s biggest fan.

1952-2018

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Movie Review: Room

Room is a drama of a mother (Brie Larson) and a son (Jacob Tremblay) bonding in a difficult situation.

Room is a drama of a mother (Brie Larson) and a son (Jacob Tremblay) bonding in a difficult situation.

I’ll admit I was late in reviving my interest in the movies with Oscar buzz. Room was even at the VIFF and I ignored it thanks to not hitting the website AwardsDaily. However Room was out in November and I finally had my chance.

The film begins with Jack waking up in a room. The room is small and crowded with a television, small kitchen, beds, bathtub and a toilet. There are no windows but there is a skylight in the ceiling. The only other person who lives in this room is a young woman named Joy, his mother. Soon we learn the two are abduction victims held captive in a shed full of escape alarms by a man she calls Old Nick. We also learn that Joy has protected Jack from knowing the truth of the situation and tried to create a world of childhood wonder for him. She even gets him to hide from Old Nick fearing Nick will sexually assault Jack the way she’s been.

Joy has been calm about her abduction situation mostly as Old Nick has kept them both fed well and sheltered well despite his obvious sexual assault on Joy of which Jack was born from. However food, clothing and shelter supplies have been scarcer since Old Nick has been kept out of a job for six months. Joy has attempted to escape before but it failed. This time, she uses Jack where she gets him to fake having a fever. It doesn’t work. The next day she gets Jack to play dead in a rolled-up carpet and to run out of the back of Nick’s truck when he gets to a stop sign en route to ‘burying’ him somewhere. The plan works as Jack is able to get out in a residential area. Jack is rescued but police would have to pursue Old Nick back at the shed where he has Joy hostage temporarily. The two are soon reunited in freedom from Old Nick.

Once free, Jack and Joy are given medical treatment where Joy is reunited with her mother Nancy, stepfather Leo and father Robert. Jack is thanked by Nancy for taking care of Joy.

As the two are starting to embrace their new freedom from captivity, they realize that they are not completely free. There’s the general public that are so dazzled by the story, the media turns this into a circus. There is Joy dealing with her divorced parents and the fact Robert doesn’t want to accept Jack. There’s even Joy returning to her room and unpleasant reminders of her fun carefree life before the abduction. While Jack is embracing his grandmother and stepgrandfather, his new freedom and the whole new world for him that comes with it, Joy can’t handle her situation and she attempts suicide. Jack sends her a piece of his hair in hopes she gets better. Eventually Joy does recover and thanks Jack for giving her reason to live. However there’s one last thing to do.

This is a film based on a novel by a novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue released five years ago. Filmmakers hired Emma to write the script for the film. Normally a situation like an abduction of a minor and a child coming from the abduction would make for something unwatchable. I wouldn’t blame any of you for feeling that way. What makes it watchable is that it’s mostly seen from the child’s point of view. Throughout the film we see the world through the eyes of Jack. Him and his sense of wonder at the small world around him as well as his hope for entering the world outside keeps this film from feeling the tense situation around it. I will say that most people would find the child’s sense of awe and wonder in the middle of an abduction would find it bizarre but it’s a creative twist that actually helps the story.

However the film is not without reminders of realities. First is the father who doesn’t want to look at Jack. While Joy sees Jack as his child and Nancy willfully accepts Jack as her grandson, grandfather Robert doesn’t want to accept him. Possibly because he may see Jack as a product of his daughter’s abduction and rape and would naturally be upset by it. Second is the media attention. No doubt the freedom achieved by Jack and Joy is a remarkable story but the media attention that came with it was too much, especially since Joy would just want to get back to her life again. Also just as Joy is getting use to life back at home, she’s reminded of her life before the abduction and of so many things that were cut short because of it.

The highlight of the film is actually the bond between Joy and Jack. No doubt Joy is a victim of her abduction. Her son Jack is where she’s able to forget her problem temporarily and feels like a mother instead of a victim. Plus she loves him back. She could have seen him as a product of her rape and neglected him but instead chooses to be a mother. Seeing her make a birthday cake for him and protect Jack from Old Nick shows how much she means to him. Even after they’re free, they still have a bond: a bond that gives Joy a reason to live after her suicide attempt.

The film I’ll admit is even a reminder of how both children and adults see situations differently. Joy sees the shed as her prison but Jack doesn’t. Joy is doing what she can to keep Jack from seeing this as a traumatizing time for the both of them and creates for him a world of joy, creativity and wonder for Jack. That’s why Jack feels an attachment to the shed to the point he even calls it ‘Room.’ Even the time in freedom is seen in different ways. Jack sees it as a time for new worlds and new explorations. Joy is supposed to see it as her time of the freedom she thought she’d never achieve but there are a lot of things that bother her like a father who doesn’t want to accept Jack and a future that was robbed from her. Even that scene at the end as the two see ‘Room’ one last time shows the difference in how the two feel. Jack willfully says goodbye to it–now a place of the police’s crime scene as is should be– but you can still see the trauma in Joy’s face. However seeing how Joy willfully says goodbye to it upon Jack’s request reminded me that if us adults handled their problems they way children like that do, we’d have much less trauma in our lives.

I will admit that I knew the film was shot in Vancouver. Whenever I see a film that was made in Vancouver, I try to identify the sites and sets in the film with areas of Vancouver I know well. I was able to do so. Even though the film is set in Ohio, it couldn’t fool me!

This film is the North American breakthrough for Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. His direction along with Donoghue’s screenplay adaptation of her own novel is the right mix and delivers a great story. I will admit the story of Room begins on an awkward note as we don’t fully understand the situation. The abduction and Joy’s impregnation of Jack from Old Nick becomes more obvious later on. I feel the two together made the right choices.

Brie Larson was the right pick for Joy. She displayed the right mix of compassion, trauma and frustration. It’s not easy to play a character who’s first a victim of abduction and rape and later adjusting to her freedom but she succeeded in playing Joy Newsome excellently. Just as excellent is Vancouver actor Jacob Tremblay. He was the right fit to play Jack with his naivety, his sense of wonder and his undying love for his mother. Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Tom McCamus were all good as the grandparents. Sean Bridgers was rather limited in his role of Old Nick. Mind you Old Nick wasn’t too be that big of a role anyways.

Room has to be the best film coming out of Vancouver this year. It’s a very unique story that makes what would normally be an unwatchable and even taboo situation very watchable. Even enlightening.