Gustav Möller talks about The Guilty

Gustav Möller is guilty as hell - of making a fascinating debut that won the Audience Award at both Sundance and IFFR. To achieve this, he needed no more that one location: the 112 emergency call centre, where a police officer gets a phone call from a woman who is kidnapped.

This is your first feature, your first visit to IFFR, your first…
“A lot of firsts! My first IFFR... a lot of firsts. And my first audience award  - two now. I’ve never seen my film as big as here, on the gigantic screen in Pathé 1. Wow. The audience award is special to me, because I want to make films for an audience, not for myself. But I want to entertain and challenge the viewer at the same time. The Guilty is designed in such a way that the audience has to participate. At the end of it, each viewer has seen his or her own film.”

Guilt is often seen as very black and white, both in our society as in film.” – Gustav Möller

This effect is caused by the fact that the viewer is listening in to all the incoming phone calls.
“A clear reference is made to this podcast called Serial. It’s a true crime story about a girl, Hae Min Lee, who has been killed. The suspect was the boyfriend, who is now in prison, and the makers are trying to figure out whether he did it or not. It’s only sound, obviously, because it is a podcast and the way they made it work was by creating imagery: they not only used dialogue but also sound and soundscapes to create the high school they were at, the murder scene and the prison. It was really interesting that with every episode you got new information about the case and the suspected killer, and every time the information changed, the 'images' you got from the surroundings also changed. I was really inspired by that, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish in The Guilty: to start the film off in one way, let the audience create one image...and then, as we expose more and more information about the case…nah, I don't want to give away any spoilers. But the question was: how can you combine the strength of another media, such as a podcast, with the strength of cinema. With cinema, you are sitting in a room with other people and this becomes an extension of the room on screen. I want you to feel like you are in the same room with a character. I’m a film nerd, so when I started I looked at every phone film there is: Locke, Buried, Phone Booth. And I also looked at films that take place in one location, like Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men. I was actually inspired by the way Sidney Lumet uses the weather in that one. The heat he summons. We went with rain. The sound of rain is one of the best sounds with which to create a feeling. You only have to hear rain to get a feeling of being there. We had so many different types of rain throughout the film. Aggressive at the start, with hard hitting rain and windshield wipers, and at the end the rain is almost calm and sad. It’s a great way to surround the audience with sound.

  • Photo: Gustav Möller

What are you guilty of?
“We are all guilty. I think the film tries to prove that guilt is something relative. Guilt is often seen as very black and white, both in our society as in film. We wanted to work with the perception of guilt, and of good and evil. That’s why we went with archetypes. We have a protagonist who goes against the rules, and normally when they do that in films, they are always right. There is a police officer who says “I’m not doing what the system wants, I'm going to break the rules”, and as an audience we tend to say he is right. We are taught from film, our moral values are also thought to us from films. We tend to think that if someone goes against the rules, he’s right. The film also tries to question this and to come up with something that is more like real life: and real life is super grey.”

Did you call 112 for research?
“No. I never did that. But we actually went to the emergency call centre and listened in to a lot of calls. Some of the calls in the film are transcribed almost word for word from calls that I heard at the call centre. The best way to get into any environment is to say that you are a filmmaker, because film is fascinating. At filmschool I made films in the criminal environment, in the boxing environment and in the psychiatric environment. All of these are closed and hard to get in to… but I got into wards, boxing clubs and now a police station. One of the things that I love about being a filmmaker is that you meet people and go to places that you would have no reason to go to and are very hard to get in to. Some of the people working in the emergency call centre said that this won't be a fun film, because they consider themselves to have a boring job. They even said: “it is probably going to be a short film.”

Photo in header: Photo: Gustav Möller | Interview: Anton Damen