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Gustav Möller • Director of The Guilty

“I am a strong believer in boundaries to enhance creativity”


- Cineuropa chatted to first-time director Gustav Möller about his one-set thriller The Guilty and what makes it so compelling for the audience

Gustav Möller  • Director of The Guilty

Danish director Gustav Möller’s minimalistic thriller The Guilty [+see also:
film review
interview: Gustav Möller
film profile
 world-premiered in January in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. Just days ago, it won the same award at the 17th Transilvania International Film Festival (25 May-3 June, Cluj-Napoca), where it was selected in the main competition (see the news). Cineuropa chatted with the first-time director about his one-set thriller and what makes it so compelling for the audience.

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Cineuropa: You had the idea of writing and directing The Guilty after watching a YouTube video. Can you explain how this clip became the starting point for your thriller?
Gustav Möller:
 The clip was a sound recording of a real 911 call. A kidnapped woman was talking to an operator in code. Initially I was just gripped by the suspense, but later I started reflecting on the fact that it felt like I had seen images of what was being described. The fact that every person listening to the same clip would see different images was extremely fascinating to me and led to the idea of turning that premise into a film – a film that would play out in a unique way to every single audience member. 

The Guilty was recently screened at the Transilvania IFF, a festival in a former communist country, where tricking the censors during the communist regime gave rise to great creativity in cinema. Do you think money is the censorship of the present day?
I am a strong believer in boundaries to enhance creativity. It is a tradition I have largely inherited from my years at the Danish Film School. I think it is something you should work with, regardless of the budget of the film. Constraint makes you more creative – or at least it makes me more creative. That said, the whole premise of The Guilty demands restraint. The film simply wouldn’t work if you chose to cut away from the protagonist. It would both take the air out of the tension and reveal information that neither the protagonist nor the audience should know. And again, the whole vision was that the audience would create their own images of the outside world. 

One of the most interesting themes in the film is that of empathy, especially because nowadays we are so quick to judge others. Was empathy a part of the story from the very beginning? How do you think this aspect of the story works with the audience?
Empathy is definitely a strong theme in the movie. It came through our research, speaking to alarm dispatchers and police officers. I think the film deals with the issue of retaining empathy when your job demands you to be professional and distanced, whilst dealing with the horrors and darkness of our society. We wanted to give the audience the same worldview as our protagonist Asger has and, in that way, make them come to the same conclusions as him.

Do you think that festivals today consider the thriller a lesser, audience-orientated genre? Do you agree? Do you feel that The Guilty was neglected by other film festivals after the Sundance world premiere?
I can’t answer that question for all films, but The Guilty has had a great festival run that just keeps on going. After Sundance and Rotterdam, the film was screened at everything from genre festivals to critics’ gatherings and at MoMA in New York, with great reactions from all kinds of audiences. And that is ultimately what interests me the most – reaching out to an audience. 

What is next for you? Are you working on a new feature?
I am working on a feature film that, like The Guilty, deals with a complex subject matter in the guise of a genre movie – but with more than one location!

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