There is something about film festivals that resonates with the eclectic in me. Whilst a plethora of Asian (and other foreign) films have graced cinema screens Down Under in recent years, my quest for everything Nordic has so far left me with slim pickings. That is, until the 2018 Sydney Film Festival closed on a thrilling high.
In front of a sell-out crowd at Sydney’s State Theatre, Gustav Möller’s The Guilty had us under its spell for a riveting 85 minutes. As a directorial debut at the Sundance Festival earlier this year, the minimalist, low-budget set-up was perhaps to be expected. That is where expectations ended in signature Nordic fashion. The breakout Danish thriller – anchored by its leading man Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) – clung to my senses like an uncomfortably damp glove on a frigid winter night.
The stolid, disinterested Asger may not be what we have in mind when we call through the Copenhagen Emergency Services with our life on the line. For reasons slowly unravelled in the film, the emergency call operator deems it beneath him to handle jackass behaviour chained to his desk and phone. From sorry tales of self-induced intoxication, to knee scrapes and jaunts in the red light district gone wrong, Asger barely suppresses his disgust and dismay at the range of social stupidity. His unsympathetic remarks, such as classic one-liners “it’s your own fault, isn’t it?” and “let him sit and stew in it”, provide comic relief in an otherwise tightly wound narrative.
The light-heartedness does not last long, however, as Asger takes a cryptic call from a traumatised female known only as Iben (Jessica Dinnage). Disguising the emergency call as a conversation with her “sweetie”, the quavering Iben appeals to the operator to end her highway abduction by her violent ex-husband Michael (Johan Olsen). Instantly alert, Asger displays his investigative prowess and unleashes one of the most intense and gruesome manhunts to have ever played out within the confines of our aural senses.
For a film that trains its spotlight on the actions (or reactions) of one man, Cedergren rises to the implausible challenge and renders a faultless performance throughout. Having never watched his performances, Cedergren’s vocal and facial tenacity, upon which the success of this film is hinged, proved as masterful as it is infectious. Of course, Cedergren harbours his own secrets and The Guilty is but a perfectly loaded pretext, as we have come to expect of Nordic noir at its finest.
Ultimately, The Guilty is also a captivating character study where, perhaps, the deepest character analysis lies with ourselves and our imaginations. For a film that never leaves the call centre, it’s taken us full circle on grisly crime scenes and excruciating circumstances of lives hanging in the balance. We are duly confronted by our impetuosity as audience, where collectively we embark on a redemptive journey to face the fallible in all of us.
Rewatchability Index: 4.5/5.