Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund which runs from April 9th to April 14th. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
An abandoned baby crib sits on a train, causing nothing short of a nuisance. The train attendants plead multiple times for someone to claim the item, but to no avail. Its presence is utterly undeniable and its irritable effects painfully palpable, but still very little can be said beyond that. There’s no getting rid of the nuisance, but still nobody wants to speak up and take responsibility. Those who do try and deal with the problems are thrown under the bus, as it were. What right do they have to deal with what happens to the crib? Ignore the crib as long as you want, but it isn’t going anywhere.
Ruben Ostlund’s Play was released to widespread political controversy due to its portrayal of racial relations in Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden.
Ruben Ostlund’s Play was released to widespread political controversy due to its portrayal of racial relations in Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden. The outcry is understandable given that an amateurish reading of Ostlund’s second feature would seem to support a troubling way of thinking, but limiting oneself to such a reading would undermine the cinematic mastery on display.
The events portrayed in Play were based off real-life incidents and court cases in which black gangs con fellow groups of children of financially stable families. They ask the time, claim the cell phone they have was stolen, and continue with their harassment until they have everything they want. The specific story told in this film follows a group of boys from a mall to unfamiliar corners of the city and outside of civilization.
Director Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure was one of last year’s most talked about films, and for many it was their introduction to the Swedish director. Those who relished Ostlund’s style there will find much to love here. Though the subject matter is far less jovial, there are shades of the director’s trademark macabre. However, it is Ostlund’s extended static takes that make Play hypnotic and riveting viewing. Wether he is filming children eating pizza or staging a beating on a bus, Ostlund continues to solidify himself as a master of human behavior. It takes special talent to craft an image that is hilarious, haunting or beautiful. It takes a cinematic god to craft one that is all three.
… it is Ostlund’s extended static takes that make Play hypnotic and riveting viewing.
Ostlund seems more interested in observing human interaction than he is in tackling specific issues, though it would be foolish to deny that every ounce of social and moral commentary that arises as a result of these observations was unintended. Ostlund keeps his cards very close to his chest, but it is the mastery in which he interweaves the story of the children with the abandoned crib that illuminates his point of view.
There is an obvious problem with racial relations in Sweden, on a global scale even. Much like the abandoned crib, nobody can claim responsibility for it, and those who try and deal with the problem have fingers pointed at them. Ostlund has no answers for the issue. Solving those problems is for other people, and he can only depict the problem. But what depiction!
It takes special talent to craft an image that is hilarious, haunting or beautiful. It takes a cinematic god to craft one that is all three.