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London Film Festival 2018: The Guilty, Styx

"What price morality" in a Europe that can afford to ask such questions, I suppose. Two distinctly different figures are place at the centre of two tricky moral dilemmas in two glossy continental features - one is buzzy, the other better. in Gustav Moller's The Guilty, a policeman working the emergency services phone line entangles himself in an urgent, ongoing kidnapping case that starts with a few pressing puzzles and gradually balloons into a case brimming with crushing secrets. Moller's protagonist Asger, never off-screen, is himself a figure of some distasteful secrets nestled beneath tellingly disasteful behaviour, and the twisted state of the film's moral dilemma is established from the off - whether redemption, resolution, or even further aggravation, The Guilty permanently feels on the brink of dashing off in any direction, and Moller's tight angles and restless editing amplify this sensation.

Alas, the film heeds the irresistible lure of resolution above all, something that begins to feel like an inevitability too early on, stymying any sense of meaningful additional development for either character or scenario. Like a detective story, The Guilty follows a single thread to its origin, and the full, unambiguous truth that lies there; the seductive instability of its early scenes, where anything was possible, is jettisoned in favour of easy answers, even if they're not always easy to hear. If the film is satisfyingly murky morally and twisty narratively, it's eventually a familiar murk and expected twists that define it. Throughout, however, Moller offers an astute commentary on the deployment and abuse of power, specificially in the context of professional duty, and star Jakob Cedergren is never less than wholly covincing as Asger.

Jakob Cedergren in The Guilty

Nothing so simplistic in Wolfgang Fischer's Styx, a similarly stark portrait of a solitary figure staring down a responsibility beyond their means, though this time resisting the lure of resolution. The poverty of Africa, the affluence of Europe, and the refugee crisis that has unfolded as a result is the subject here, as in so many more European titles of late - there are no easy answers to the questions posed by this crisis, whether in full or in isolation, as in Styx. After all, this is an issue that remains ongoing; Fisher's treatment of it involves one fictional, non-typical scenario wherein a solo sailor headed for Ascension Island happens upon a sinking fishing boat stuffed with desperate Africans. The meat of the movie is in what she decides to do, what she is forced to do, and what she simply must do.

The opening act lavishes due attention on this sailor, Rieke's fastidious preparations for her voyage, and the skill she displays in navigating the Atlantic solo - under Benedict Neuenfels' shimmering cinematography, it's a fabulous watch, as witnessing someone carry out tasks in which they're proficient always is on film. This, and Rieke's evident affluence, are quite unnatural, though, fodder for nature's reclamation, or for the developing world's attempts at retribution. The dark, distressing disorder of the imperilled fishing boat disrupts the calm decorum of her existence aboard her glistening white yacht, and what starts as a theoretical moral conundrum for Rieke, roughly 150 metres from the boat, turns into something altogether tougher for this intelligent, methodical German doctor to figure out when one of the boat's passengers swims over to her and boards her craft, requiring her medical attention, providing momentary distraction, and placing her in a muddy middle-ground. Coastguards crudely advise against her involvement, her ailing passenger demands it, his former pasengers need it, but can she provide it? Fischer's stylistic response is to contrast clean simplicity with occasional flourishes of colour, movement or disorder; passion and dispassion in uneasy collaboration - a key thematic and stylistic concern of Central European cinema of the last 30 years, of which Styx could be considered a particularly smart and thoughtful new constituent.

Londoners (and visitors) can check out both The Guilty and Styx at the London Film Festival from the 10th to the 21st of October 2018.

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