'The Guilty': Gustav Möller weaves an aural movie experience to understand human hubris
Shot in just two rooms with the camera focusing on only one character, Moller's 'The Guilty' will take you on an unusual ride.
It's a rare film that manages to keep its audience on the edge of their seats by telling them a story through a single location.
Either a single-location movie turns out to be just a cheap low-budget gimmick or bores the audience to death due to its lack of storytelling. Fortunately, Gustav Möller's Danish film, 'The Guilty' set to release in the US on October 19, is both compelling in its storytelling and a masterpiece in its construction.
This minimalist thriller exhibits the daily life of a police officer, Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren), who - now demoted to desk work - comes across several apparent calls-for-help on a regular day at work.
Holm finds himself responding to calls from people who don't seem to have their heads in the right place - people who think they might die after dosing themselves with drugs, callers who do not mind calling the cops maybe for even chasing a rat out of their house, and of course, the bullies who have the least regard for anyone. However, Holm sits on it all and does his work, but things begin to take an unusual turn when he receives a call from a woman.
The woman, Iben (Jessica Dinnage), leads Holm into a case where the abducted woman is trying hard to escape from the clutches of her abusive husband.
Holm is immediately hooked to the case. He goes berserk seeking help and in trying to do so, Holm breaks several codes of conduct. He takes the case completely in his own hands without passing it on to the authorities, and in the process, Holm's character is depicted as someone who would probably go to any extent to regain his own sense of authority.
That is the exact subtle beauty of this movie.
Moller's characters, except Holm, are simply voices. You do not see them cry, portray the fear in their eyes, or even observe them in some vegetative state. You simply hear them. You hear Iben's desperate call for help, the confusion in the voice of the six-year-old who has just discovered that her baby brother has been murdered, and the scared, witless tension in the voice of her husband, Michael (Johan Olsen). Just as there are characters who are sometimes physically present in the storyline, acting as foils to the protagonist, Moller has skilfully placed some more voices who seem to knock on Holm from time to time.
As an officer who has been demoted to a desk job, it is pretty evident that Holm is trying his best to move out of the tiny two-room chambers. He answers every single call with a sense of urgency and is disappointed every time the caller would turns out to be just another fuss.
However, the moment he realizes that Iden is not just any regular caller, and her case could involve extreme danger, he immediately jumps into it.
That is something Moller has highlighted throughout the movie. With every close-up, every focus and long shot, Moller continuously points out to the fact that this guy who tends to emergency calls is no hero, and just like any other person, prioritizes anything that attracts him.
Holm, for the most part, does not play by the rules. After receiving Iden's call, without checking into the matter, he immediately visualizes the crime scene in his head, where Iben easily fits into the category of a victim who is being abducted by her abusive husband, and the two children at the worst receiving end on the victim scale.
Considering this to be his escape route, Holm takes up the case more to prove that he is still capable than to solve the case for its own sake.
It is almost like a clash between being selfish and selfless, and Moller has pretty well defined in his story what it is to be subjective when it comes to recognizing the victim.
The story probably finds its perfection in the vocal talents. Each actor including Omar Shargawi, who has lent his voice to the character Rashid, has brought the characters to life. You cannot help but feel a sense of distress and uneasiness when listening to Iben, and in the end when reality unfolds itself, Iben's voice- with its consistent tone - provokes anger.
Similarly, we empathize with Rashid, who finds himself in the middle of a whimsical rat-play while he tries to keep his head sane in order to be the right witness in Holm's case. Amid being betrayed by his own instinct and realizing that verification is always necessary, the voice of the emergency dispatcher from Copenhagen gives Holm hope.
The voices around Holm act as catalysts - while some put him at the tip of his toes, the others provide him with a sense of security. Holm's character cannot stand alone without the voices around him. It's the voices which trigger him to go through the entire process of rescuing without investigating, it is also the voices that make him realize that his place does not belong on the pedestal of rescuers. Holm is after all just an ordinary man who is trying to face a case in court for murder so that he can get back to his field. Probably that one phone call was more than a hope to him, it was the final chance to escape the limited lifestyle that he has been constrained to.
Rightfully titled as 'The Guilty', the movie places in front of us a plethora of characters who seem to be guilty of something or the other. Iben is guilty of murdering her son, Michael is guilty of leaving his daughter alone, the six-year-old Mathilde is guilty of her mother leaving, and ultimately Holm is guilty of how the case ultimately turned out to be.
If not anything else, 'The Guilty' is a movie that uses sound to highlight the amount of arrogance, hubris, and conceit which plague every single one of us -- people in the law enforcement being no exception.
On a concluding note, 'The Guilty' isn't a movie you watch, you listen to it.