Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TIFF Ruben Ostlund Retrospective - Involuntary

A birthday party is the setting for the first of five stories introduced in Ruben Ostlund's Involuntary. Ostlund's  ongoing use of unique camera angles is evident as the first sequence is shot from the knees down. The dialogue is standard for old friends that have not seen each other for a long while. The dialogue includes discussion of every day events plus exchanges of pleasantries. The guests enquire about kids now grown, comment on recent weight loss followed by a shift in focus to cocktails and gifts.

The second story is set on a coach with a high school aged kids zone at the back, while mature passengers and families occupy the middle and front.  An older couple recognize a veteran domestic Swedish actress providing positive comments on her past roles then question if a trip to Hollywood is in her future. The coach driver strikes up a conversation with the teenage tour guide that falls firmly under the category of too much sharing.

Next up are two teen girls taking webcam pictures of themselves in various provocative poses. They debate over who is prettier then meet up with two friends followed by a drinking session in the family living room.  They are followed by a senior grade school class with their young teacher performing an intriguing social experiment on an inspecting student  then the lastly a boys weekend out in the country featuring daylight drunkenness followed by several incidents of invasion of personal space.

Ostlund and Erik Hemmendorff share writing credits for the film. Each story has a clear moment that requires a reaction but the characters act in a different way or fail to even act at all. Ostlund is again exploring the human psyche as if he is a scientist working in a lab setting up scenario's to see if individuals will react as they should or suffer from pack mentality following the group for fear of being singled out, embarrassed or even shunned.

The narrative cuts back and forth between the stories after short vignettes. The players struggle with the situation at hand and in only one episode does the protagonist make the hard choice but her decision leads her to be ostracized from the group as evidenced by a warning from a peer that she now better watch her back. The web cam girls participate in the most disturbing sequence ending up  at a party in a park with older kids while very intoxicated, disorientated and vulnerable.

Ostlund continues with his practice of presenting the story in a different perspective. Many scenes are presented with the tops of heads cut off. The fixed camera is omnipresent often shooting through a doorway framing the speakers on the other side. He even shoots a silver car door using the reflection to film the scene. The result is a fun house mirror effect on the afternoon misadventures of the boys weekend. Ostlund also continues to shoot on moving vehicles here on the coach and a city bus with the web cam duo as they first head out for the evening.

Another Ostlund trait is his willingness to make his audience and characters feel uncomfortable for extended periods of time. Here it plays out in the coach story where the journey stalls for far to long due to the actions of a passenger that won't own up to the minor offence. It's also evident at the birthday party were there is an injury that obviously requires immediate attention but is ignored
resulting in serious consequences later that evening. Involuntary is another work by a rising auteur that I can highly recommend.

**** out of Four.

Involuntary | Ruben Ostlund | Sweden | 2008 | 98 Minutes.

Tags: Birthday party, head injury, pack mentality, Underage Drinking, Boys Weekend, Honesty, Deceit, Action, Inaction, Ethics.

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