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The Guilty (Melbourne International Film Festival)

Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Asger Holm is a police officer under investigation for the illegal shooting of a suspect. While protesting his innocence, he finds himself restricted to working the emergency telephone lines night after night. On the last night of work before his disciplinary tribunal is held, a terrified woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) calls having been kidnapped from her own home. Asger is forced to rescue her and catch her kidnapper – all from the confines of his desk.

The Guilty is one of the freshest and most tense crime thrillers of recent years. It is tense because it features a whip-smart plot with several twists and surprises. It feels fresh because not only does Asger never leave the office, neither does the audience. The entire feature takes place in an emergency call centre, with the victim, kidnapper, witnesses and field cops only featuring via a telephone line. It creates something that almost feels like a hybrid of film and radio drama. It forces the audience to imagine the action by themselves, and there’s plenty of action to be imagined. As if often the trend with so-called ‘Nordic Noir’, the violence gets rather blunt and trends towards the actively horrific. It’s arguably even more savage than usual, since The Guilty doesn’t show you horrors so much as describe them to you for you to imagine by yourself.

Such a deliberately limited presentation places a lot of responsibility on both acting and writing. The screenplay is by director Gustav Möller with Emil Nygaard Albertsen, and positively nails the tension required to make the film work. It is not a long film by any stretch, but it still wisely utilises a slow build as a kidnapping turns into a murder, and that murder begins to ratchet up Asger’s own tensions about the killing of which he has been accused. It builds the facts behind the kidnapping like a jigsaw puzzle, as each revelation forces the viewer to reconsider what they have already heard. Once events reach a climax, Möller is quick to exit the film while the audience is still reeling. It’s good that the film is as tightly edited as it is – much more of this level of tension and it would risk becoming unbearable.

Jakob Cedergren does a sensational job playing Asger. It is a hugely demanding role. The majority of the film is dominated by his face in close-up, requiring an enormously subtle performance to both maintain tension and avoid over-acting. It is a pressure-cooker role, with Asger being critical to Iben’s survival yet feeling powerless as a field officer stuck on the telephone, and not well-liked by his colleagues for being a hothead or widely trusted due to his shooting incident. The performance is as close to faultless as to make no odds.

This is a remarkable, must-see thriller, and one of the strongest narrative features of the year to date. It is remarkable the directorial debut for Gustav Möller. If his first shot is this strong, he is definitely a director to keep an eye on in future. The Guilty announces a major new filmmaking talent.

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Vanessa Gazy: Highway to the Top

With her latest short, Shiloh, having just screened at MIFF and her first feature receiving development funds from Screen Australia, we check in with fast-rising filmmaker Vanessa Gazy.
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Francis Lee: Breaking the Mountain

Sundance, Berlin, Sydney, now Melbourne, film festival hit God’s Own Country has dazzled audiences. We spoke with the film’s writer/director, Francis Lee, ahead of its cinema release.  
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The Butterfly Tree

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Following the death of his mother, 13 year-old Fin (Ed Oxenbould) has retreated into a fantasy world of butterflies and other insects. Meanwhile his father Al (Ewen Leslie) drowns his sorrows in a sea of one-night stands and ill-advised short-term relationships. When Evelyn (Melissa George) moves into the neighbourhood to set up a new florist, she becomes the object of affection for both Fin and Al – and ultimately brings their own bitter conflict to the surface.

The Butterfly Tree is a new Australian drama, marking the feature debut of director Priscilla Cameron. It is a bold and promising work, rich in imagery and led by uniformly strong performances. The visuals are the most arresting aspect of the film, grabbing the eye with a bold use of colour and occasional sequences of magical realism. Fin’s dream world is rendered very effectively with a combination of live-action and animation. Many directors seem afraid of using colour. Cameron is absolutely not one of them, and despite its limited budget this is one of the most eye-catching and beautiful Australian films in in some time.

The film’s narrative has a pleasing intimacy to it, effectively working as a four-hander. As Fin, Ed Oxenbould delivers a very strong performance. He expresses the most awkward sort of teenage sexuality and frustration, as well as a badly buried grief and rage over his mother’s death. Fin undeniably makes very poor choices over the course of the film, but it is Oxenbould’s acting that ensures he remains sympathetic and ultimately very easy to identify with.

Melissa George gives her career-best as Evelyn, who seems almost an unrealistic romantic fantasy at first before the film digs a little deeper and reveals the real person underneath the surface. She is a particularly well-crafted character, and George is equally strong in both the romantic and the more grounded scenes. Her character grows in importance as the film develops, which is a very good thing. She may start as the pointy-end of an odd love triangle, but by the film’s conclusion she absolutely has her own central role.

The cast is rounded out by Ewen Leslie, one of Australia’s most reliable and watchable actors, and Sophie Lowe, who plays Shelley: Al’s latest and most inappropriate girlfriend so far. In many respects Lowe is burdened with a stereotypical character – the evil ex-girlfriend – but thankfully Cameron does provide her with a few key moments in which a more rounded and believable character emerges. For his own part Leslie is excellent, and like Oxenbould develops an identifiable and sympathetic character despite his own poor choices and behaviour.

If there is a key drawback to the film it is that the screenplay relies a little too heavily on well-worn territory, with plot elements that have been run over and over again in countless previous dramas. The treatment of those elements is rarely short of excellent, however they do create a slightly unwelcome familiarity as the film goes on. In the end it is not the story that viewers are likely to remember: instead it will be the strong performances, and particularly the engaging and memorable visual images. This film may be narratively unadventurous, but it is aesthetically wonderful.

Click here for nationwide movie times for The Butterfly Tree