An officer in a Copenhagen emergency call center finds himself trying to save an abducted woman and locate a frightened 6-year-old girl. Tension mounts throughout in this bare-bones psychodrama. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
One set. One man, wearing a headset.
Those are the basic ingredients of Danish writer-director Gustav Möller’s bare-bones psychodrama “The Guilty.”
The set is a Copenhagen police station. The man is Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren), a street cop on temporary duty in the station’s Emergency Services department (the Danish equivalent of a 911 call center).
Fielding routine calls from aggrieved citizens, he’s bored and frustrated. He wants to be back out on the street catching crooks. Then the frantic voice of a fearful woman sounds in his ear. She says she’s been abducted. She says her abductor is in the vehicle with her.
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What follows is the development of the case in which phoned-in fragments indicate a murder has been committed and a 6-year-old child is in danger.
Holm never leaves the station. He rarely removes his headset. Director Möller’s camera rarely leaves the officer’s face.
The whole picture rests upon Cedergren’s performance. His face registers concern, compassion, frustration, rage, despair. The shadings of his voice and the depth of emotions reflected in his eyes rivet the audience’s attention.
The cop seeks to reassure the frightened woman. He works to coordinate the search for her and for the child by talking to a dispatch center, squad cars, officers on the scene.
The mood darkens, literally, as he moves into an empty office where the lights are out. He draws the blinds. He is a man very much alone, except for the voices in his ears. His growing anguish is private.
The sound design is a prominent feature of “The Guilty,” full of the buzz of cellphones clicking on and off and the harsh and distorted voices coming into his earpiece from phones and police radios.
As the drama unfolds, call by call, it becomes apparent there is more going on here than first impressions suggest. The cop is emotionally buffeted by a succession of revelations.
Holm himself is afflicted by a personal torment tied to the reason he’s been taken off patrol duty, which is gradually revealed.
In this, his feature directorial debut, Möller makes a whole lot out of very little: a whole lot of dramatic forcefulness out of the most simple and basic of elements, a solitary man struggling to do the right thing. It’s no wonder the picture has been selected as Denmark’s official entry in the Oscar Foreign Language Film race.
★★★ “The Guilty,” with Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage. Directed by Gustav Möller, from a screenplay by Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen. 85 minutes. Rated R for some frightening scenes, portrayed only through sound and dialogue on the phone. In Danish, with English subtitles. Opens Oct. 19 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.