June 27, 2011

Play (Sweden 2011)

 The Filmfest München is currently devoting a program to Young Swedish Cinema. Sweden is an exception in Europe with the fact that talented younger filmmakers get a chance to make films there as opposed to the established, often untouchable auteurs well into middle age that are usually the ones allowed to make films in other European countries. And among these young directors, Ruben Östlund may be the most interesting.

With his startling 2008 film "Involuntary", the filmmaker established himself as one to watch and his latest film "Play" - for which he received good reviews in Cannes - more than confirms that. His unique, reduced style can best be described as voyeuristic and observational. He shows troubling everyday situations but as opposed to a documentarian approach he never comments on them. Instead, he forces the audience to think and make their own judgements about the actions of the characters.

Most films work through the identification with the characters. "Play" doesn't. Instead, it is addresses the audience directly. His refusal of letting us get too close to the characters is reflected in the cinematography: even intimate scenes are shot as long static shots that are nevertheless frequently engrossing. Östlund does not need the usual dramaturgical devices to make his film "exciting" - instead he finds the tension within the ordinary.

"Play" is a provocative film and his portrayal of criminal African immigrant kids may upset some viewers. But it is exactly this refusal to play by any rules and make any moral judgements that makes the film so subtly brilliant. His understated style is the equivalent of the minimalism that made Swedish design world-famous - one can only hope the same will happen to him and Swedish cinema...

(Filmfest München)


Reality Cinema: Ruben Östlund's "Play"

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