The Guilty [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Magnolia Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (3rd March 2019).
The Film

Thank goodness for foreign films is often what I am often heard saying when discussing film today. I mean, can you imagine, in a typical Hollywood setting, a director trying to sell the concept of this film to some big shot producer? “Listen J.J., this is ground breaking stuff, audiences haven’t seen this type of thing before. Picture this if you will: one man in a room answering the emergency hot line and that’s it. The camera work is intense; we zoom in on the main character’s face and listen to his conversation. All we hear and know is what the character knows. It’s fantastic! It’ll clean up at the box office I tell you!!” Yes, I am being slightly ridiculous is describing the film in such simplistic terms but in essence that is exactly what happens in the film. The magic comes into the film because of the simplicity of its structure; the entire film’s premise is carried by the main character, Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) and by how he acts, what he says and does, by his internalized thoughts and emotions, and most importantly, by the information that is slowly revealed as the film progresses. This is the type of cinema that sneaks up on you slowly and pulls you in, and before you can dismiss the director’s concept, you are involved and riveted to Cedergren’s performance, as you too feel his character’s sense of helplessness and frustration as the story is unfolded in real time.

“Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?” (John, 18:38).

It is all too easy to make assumptions about everyday situations. We are witness to something and we believe that we know what is going on, that we are privy to the facts, when in reality that is a falsehood. Watching films is like that as well. We, as the audience, watch a film and we bring to it our own private assumptions; we are the sum of our experiences and as an audience we are witness to what is being shown. The director knows this and he uses it to his advantage to explore the art form. The setting is the emergency network in Denmark; a one room situation with various other men and women seated at their computer consoles and working the phones. The environment is cold and sterile, brightly lit and not very comforting. We begin media res with the phone ringing as we see Asger putting on his hands-free headset. It is another long shift with various citizens calling in with a variety of woes: a man calls to report that he has been the victim of a mugging in his car. As Asger brusquely asks the man for an address, he detects an air of suspicion. Turns out that the man was robbed by a prostitute in the red light district and after being chastised by Asger, a squad car is sent on their way. Was the citizen a victim of his own circumstances; wrong place at the wrong time? Asger definitely thinks so and his dismissive attitude towards the man reveals how this officer of the law thinks of himself. As the film progresses we are slowly fed information in bits and pieces; it seems that Asger has done something that has resulted with him being placed on desk duty. There is a mention of a trail tomorrow and a colleague tells him that everything will be over and that he’ll be back on the streets in no time. We are not told what offence has occurred, but we can tell by Asger’s behavior that this is weighing heavily on him. What are we to make of this man, a police officer, who is in hot water?

Director Gustav Möller is masterfully in charge of the scenario and Asger is the subject of the camera’s gaze; close ups of his face fill the screen as he speaks into the headset, his expression stern and commanding. Möller makes Asger the focal point of the film. Very little screen time is wasted on Asger’s co-workers; there is one brief conversation with the man that sits next to him and then Asger apologizes for his behavior. We are left to ponder what this means when a reporter calls Asger on his cell phone and begins to pepper him with questions about the upcoming trial. Asger makes short work of the caller and tells them not to disturb him anymore. Then another call comes into the center; a female voice, the woman caller calls him sweetheart, and begins a conversation that at first seems to possibly be a wrong number misdialed. Asger identifies himself and tells the caller that this is the emergency hotline, but the woman continues speaking. Quickly Asger realizes that the woman is in distress and that she is a passenger in a vehicle. He begins to try to obtain as much information as he can. Her name is Iben (Jessica Dinnage). Does the person driving know that she is on the phone? Yes, he thinks that I am talking to my daughter, Mathilda. Is the man armed? Yes, it is her husband. The caller ID reveals the woman’s name and home phone number. Where are you headed? North. What type of vehicle is it? A white van. Asger calls dispatch in the area and tells them to be on the lookout for a white van. What is the plate number, the dispatcher asks. You can feel Asger’s anger with his colleague as is evident by the co-worker’s “I’m just doing my job here” attitude. Doesn’t this idiot realize that a woman’s life is in danger? We are placed directly in Asger’s position and we are completely dependent upon Asger’s conversation to understand what is happening in the van with the woman.

Asger’s co-worker tells him to relax, the shift is over in ten minutes and then they can go home. Asger enquires whether or not a return caller would be assigned to him if he takes the call in another room. Sure thing. Asger is like a dog with a bone, and he isn’t going to let this issue go unresolved and clock out just because the night shift is here. He takes his cell phone and retreats into another office; a smaller and darker space, just him and the computer. He looks up the female caller’s home number and calls it. A young girl answers the phone. No, mom is not home. Mom and Dad left after having an argument. She is six and a half years old and her name is Mathilda (Katinka Evers-Jahnsen). Asger asks the girl some questions about the situation. The scene is very tense and we are aware of the passage of time. Mathilda and her baby brother have been left behind and the girl is very upset. Through her tears, she manages to give Asger some important information, and he tells her that he is sending the police over to visit with them. The director has this scene play out in a small dark room with the camera glued to Asger’s face, there is an occasional shot of his fingers typing on the keyboard, but mainly it is the phone calls that supply us with additional information. As Asger tries to keep the line open, he uses a desk phone to call various others. He speaks with a former co-worker on the streets; he speaks with his former partner, and throughout Asger is desperately trying to stay cool and calm. Detached. A professional.

The sad reality of the scene is that Asger is merely a voice on the phone, someone that is trying to figure out a way to help the female caller by just talking; the former lawman is hamstrung, he doesn’t have a gun, he has no car; he is a man that is operating a phone and a computer as punishment for an offence that has yet to be pronounced. How effective can he be in this situation? Who can he protect in this type of situation?

Asger calls the husband Michael (Johan Olsen) on the phone. He informs him that he knows that he is a convicted felon, that Michael has Iben in the van and that there are officers patrolling the highways looking for them. “What, do you want me to feel sorry for you? yells Asger. Are you a victim? You aren’t a victim… Iben is a victim, Mathilda is a victim, your son is a victim.” Asger loses his temper and the husband hangs up. Asger realizes that getting mad at the man is not going to help resolve this situation, but what can he do? His feelings of helplessness are our feelings as well. We, the audience, squirm uncomfortably as more and more facts are added to the overall picture. The emotional response is grim, the reality is mind numbing, and Asger is our only source of hope.

In this day and time, with politics being what they are, this film has important messages about authority, judgement, punishment, ethics, and most essentially what does it mean to be human. Last time I checked, being human meant being flawed or imperfect. This film casts a bright light on a shadowy subject; the issue of human ineffability. Yes, we depend upon certain people to be our lawmakers, “our protectors” to use the term that Asger uses when speaking to Mathilde, but they are also human, subject to emotional ups and downs; even heroes have the occasional bad day. For some reason I kept on thinking about Batman while watching this film. The Batman is ultimately a vigilante, meaning that he is acting outside of the law. He works with law enforcement but nonetheless does not need to adhere to a set of rules and regulations; he is a rogue figure, using all types of manners and weapons that are not regulated by society. The Batman is the ultimate example of a protector; he lives by his own moral code. Asger displays many moments of this behavior: he disobeys orders; he assigns the kidnapped woman case to himself, and is unwilling to simply leave when his shift is over. There is a hunger in his eyes; he undoubtedly believes in his job, his duty as an officer of the law, and he is dedicated to seeing the job through to its natural conclusion. He bends the rules because there is an emergency and the rules only hinder progress. Asger sees himself rising to the occasion, despite the fact that tomorrow he will be on trial, facing an unknowable fate for an act that he perpetuated, and yet he is committed to trying to save Iben from harm. It isn’t until the breath taking conclusion that we see Asger finally understand his own fallibility and he makes the first step toward retribution.

"The Guilty" is Denmark’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category for The Academy Awards and it is a superb choice. Möller offers us a literal how to primer of how to make the absolute most from a limited budget film with no CGI or any special effects, depending completely on his ability to tell a story. The performance by Jakob Cedergren is stunning and amazing; where the director found this talented actor at is a mystery to me, but I want to see more of his skills on screen. This film is a total keeper and I only wished that Magnolia would have sprung the money for some extras to answer some of the questions I had. Completely unforgettable and fascinating; this is the best film that I have seen this year.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.40:1 HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, I enjoyed this film very much and the continued close ups of Asger as he withdrawals from all outside interruptions is inspirational. The beauty of the character’s inner isolation is readily reflected and it makes us ponder what is to happen to Asger in the future. True, he is a damaged individual, but he is ultimately human and he takes the first step to becoming whole again.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in the original Danish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and a dubbed track in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. The audio scape of this film is amazing because we are dependent upon the voices on the phone to inform us of the details; Möller has denied us the visuals but instead he makes us flex our listening muscles. The other voice actors in the film are perfect and totally believable. Bare bones filmmaking has never sounded so good before! Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, and Spanish.

Extras

The only extras are a collection of three bonus trailers for:

- "The Quake" (2:10)
- "Tyrel" (2:15)
- "The Last Race" (1:33)

Packaging

Comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

A superb film that utilizes everything that it can to tell a story that is riveting and suspenseful.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: F Overall: C+

 


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