(Image: IMDb)


Official selection of the 6th annual Chicago Critics Film Festival


“Help me.” How simple that statement is. How broad and unknown the need is that is connected to that word “help.” Diving into the stresses and rigors of an emergency services dispatcher in Copenhagen, the dexterous Danish film The Guiltyputs that dangling notion of help so close, yet so far away. Gustav Möller’s feature debut potboiler is a bonafide Oscar contender as one of the best foreign language films of the year.

LESSON #1: THE RIGORS OF THE JOB — Much has been documented on several levels and from many sources on the stresses of emergency dispatchers. The battle between adrenaline and anxiety can be overwhelmingfor even the toughest cops. It can be a crucial yet thankless job that not everyone can handle. Appreciate them where and how you can their power of calm conversation.

Armed with a headset microphone and a multiple-screen display instead of a gun and a badge, Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren of Compulsion) is an active officer serving a brief demotion of sorts manning the phone center. Clues along the way detail how his boundary-pushing behavior may have put him in hot water recently. Asger dodges calls from a journalist digging into a previous incident and upcoming court appearance which may explain the desk detail and reprimand.

When several connected emergency calls frame a potential kidnapping involving an unseen mother and her children, Asger’s cop instincts serve him well to help with the auditory dangers on the other end of the line. Those fortitudinal fibers also over-commit him to defending the victims and overpromising safety. However, there’s only so much invested into the situation yet helplessly bound to that desk and phone line.

LESSON #2: THE SENSORY AMPLIFICATION OF SOUND — The Guiltystrongly and deliciously plays with our auditory senses. We the audience may see Asger’s actions and facial expressions, but we are in the same position as him where all we can do is hear and guess what is happening on the other ends of the calls. The rattling nerves brilliantly increase their effect.

LESSON #3: THE SENSORY LIMITATIONS OF SOUND — Amplification in one place brings limits in another. When sound is all that one has to go one, the the mind races to create visuals and that’s likely worse than anything horrible you hear. Between this one and Lesson #2, big kudos go out to the four-man sound editing and foley artist team of Philip Flindt, Torben Greve, Oskar Skriver, and Lasse Sørensen. They have created an ingenious labyrinth of auditory mystery.

Through it all, we hang on every disarming tick of Jakob Cedergren. The will-he-or-won’t-he factor of whether his character breaks is fascinating to watch transpire. The actor impressively portrays the invisible claustrophobia of guilt created by its bottled setting.

Played in nearly real-time, The Guilty jolts the audience with the fits and spurts of the received and dropped calls. Some are dangled snippets and others linger with impact. Their rising and falling tensions are shrewdly and sharply written by Möller and TV writer Emil Nygaard Albertsen. Their unforgiving suspense create an engrossing and choking mood of unknown and mounting dread. The Guilty is as smooth and taut of a 85-minute feature as you’ll see, no matter the language.