Monday, April 6, 2015

TIFF Ruben Ostlund Retrospective - Play

The story opens with a static wide shot of a shopping mall's main floor. Voices are heard off the side of the screen two middle school aged kids come down the winding stairs to the ground floor. One realizes that he has lost 500 Kroner. The pair check the bags and pockets working back through the stores they visited in the mall to potentially retrace their steps.  The camera pans left to a group of immigrant boys who are watching intently. The camera sweeps back as the boys chant Zig Zag Zug their term for they've found a mark and plan to put their scam into action.

Director Ruben Ostlund based this film on real life accounts of a group of 12 to 14 year old bullies in Gothenburg that stole from other kids over a 2 year period between 2006 and 2008. The method used approach, followed by a request to look at a phone then claim that the scratches on the phone match a brother or cousins meaning that the marks have to go to meet with the aggrieved relative to sort things out. The group play good cop bad cop amongst themselves to keep their victim strung along until the final scam is concocted to take as much as possible from the victims.

Osltund's shooting style is distinct; his scene set up is similar to the work of Michael Haneke. The camera is normally stationary with  the action moving into and out of the frame plus minimal added sound. Osltund also employees distant, wide and overhead shots putting the focus on the story over the individuals involved.

The majority of the narrative focuses on three suburban kids that head downtown to the Stadium Mall the main hangout of the immigrant troop for a day of shopping.  The squad spot the interlopers in a shoe store, follow them on a tram then corner them in a downtown restaurant. They pull the stolen phone gag and lead the suburbanites on a snaking journey around Gothenburg for an entire day. An interesting dynamic develops amongst both groups. There is sympathy and empathy shown between the boys, solidarity and the most unexpected support of the aggressors by a suburbanite against one of his friends.

The acting of the group of young actors is solid but not spectacular. Abdiaziz Hilowle separates himself from the group in the role of Abdi. He flips from good cop telling the marks that he understands their position and just wants to work this out. Backing others from his group away when hey become aggressive towards the suburbanites. His attitude completely flips at another point in the film providing the most violent act in the production against one of his own group that had decided that he had enough of the charade and just wanted to go home.

Play is a complex psychological study. It looks at social class, peer pressure, bullying and different standards for citizen groups. It appears by the reaction of the majority of adults or authority figures involved in the case that the immigrant kids have less opportunity therefore there is an unconscious effort to bend way over backwards to give them the benefit of the doubt for bad behaviour. While the rich kids are well to do with their parents buying them everything anyway so if they get robbed the items will simply and quickly be replaced.

*** 1/2 Out of Four.

Play | Ruben Ostlund | Sweden | 2011 | 118 Minutes.

Tags; Immigrant, Bullying, Robbing, Shopping Mall, Immigrant, Privileged, Class, Scam, Staking, Socialization, Teens.

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