Film review: Hätäkutsu (Emergency calls) by Hannes Vartiainen and Pekka Veikkolainen

Hätäkutsu (Emergency calls) opens with a warning that the content may not be suitable for all viewers. It is not the images that are too explicit; it is rather the audio that highly disturbs us as it deals with real, original recordings. Most of them are emergency calls documented by the Finnish emergency response center administration. Every single phone call opens with the same question: “What is your emergency?” The unfolding stories on the other side of the line vary from records of a sudden twin birth, to a multiple car crash and a school shooting. They are cut into pieces and intertwine cleverly. Some stories get closure, others remain open, leaving the viewer to wonder about the denouement. The phone call about domestic violence is the only one that has been re-enacted based on a transcript, as the directors were not able to get the original tape for privacy reasons. At the very core of the documentary though, is the last radio message of the M/S Estonia, a cruise ferry that sank in 1994 in the Baltic Sea. A tragedy that is considered to be one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century, costing 852 lives. Hannes Vartiainen and Pekka Veikkolainen took the recording of the radio message from a public attachment to the final disaster report written by the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority.

The audio material is matched with seemingly random footage, such as radar signals, blinking lights and cloudy skies, that in an abstract way adds meaning to the calls coming in. Furthermore, there are less arbitrary images too, for example of different first-aid vehicles. Also, a regularly recurring element is the NASA space footage from the International Space Station showing the immensity of the earth as seen from above.

The alarm center operators were given a face as well. A tranquil man and woman take turns in reading along the recordings and at times they look directly into the camera. The lighting is slightly eerie and there is no equipment, headset nor computer monitor. The directors deliberately chose to recreate the emergency call center in an unrealistic way to make tangible what it basically all comes down to: just one human being helping another in a matter of life and death. 

Author: Gerdien Smit*

Title: Hätäkutsu

Director: Hannes Vartiainen and Pekka Veikkolainen

Year: 2013

Run time: 14'59''

Country: Finland

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*Every day Cineuropa Shorts, in collaboration with Nisimazine and Lago Film Fest (18-26 July), offers you film reviews and interviews made in Lago by the brilliant Nisimazine’s team of young journalists.

25 July 2014, by Nisimazine