Play Screen 12 articles

Play

2011

Play Poster
  • Ruben Östlund's moral tale is the boldest formal experiment in the main slate at this year's New York Film Festival, a trait matched in force only by the confusion of its politics.

  • While I'm a tad more sympathetic to concerns about political correctness (e.g., I think Jonathan Chait's recent piece makes some valid points, and that its brusque dismissal by some as antediluvian-white-male whining tends to validate said points), that doesn't mean I relish two hours of a finger being wagged in my face. And Östlund has real trouble ending his movies, as Force Majeure would subsequently confirm.

  • Play often recalls some of Michael Haneke’s early provocations as well as the narrative stance employed by Corneliu Porumboiu in Police, Adjective. Although less rigorous than Porumboiu’s film, Östlund’s wry examination of the indignities of class and race is a welcome riposte to the cliches of the standard social problem film, whether exemplified by Hollywood variants such as The Help or the feebler films of Ken Loach and Michael Winterbottom.

  • At certain times, [Östlund] shows his Haneke-esque provocateur roots, even if punishing the audience isn’t really on his agenda. Over two hours, Play stays unpredictable and beautifully shot. Despite the rigidity of the generally fixed camera, the performances show no seams: they’re totally naturalistic, as graceless as the security camera footage the digital evokes. On the other hand, the film’s agenda has me flummoxed, which is perhaps the ultimate sign of its success. Maybe.

  • Despite—or perhaps because of—the emphasis on real time, the film eventually acquires a strange kind of dream logic, the same kind of inertia that sees the hassled boys follow their tormentors sullenly, with a slack kind of resistance. At one brilliant moment, when we see for a second that the con gang has their own problems outside of this minor hustle, it almost seems like the two groups have bonded together simply due to time spent together, distances traversed, the intimacy of the frame.

  • The film that results is an unsettling treatment of race and class division... Shots are held for long durations, in often wide, mostly fixed-camera compositions that enclose the kids in prison-like frames while they—and we the audience—sweat it out, waiting for bad things to happen. (When the camera does move, it’s usually to emphasize spatial anxiety.)

  • The handling of physical space is masterful throughout, as the focus shifts from pointedly windowless interiors (often rendered in ultra-dense shots, overlaid with multiple lines and reflections) to the wide open spaces of Gotheborg’s outskirts.

  • Complex issues of class, race and consumerism arise while Östlund looks on impassively. A recurrent tactic of the director is to allow scenes to run until they seem emaciated of meaning, only then to surprise us with new, often shocking information. It’s a tension-building trick that forces viewer concentration and contributes to the enveloping thematic concerns of voyeurism and manipulation.

  • [Play is] Östlund’s most provocative film and easily his most troubling portrait of contemporary Sweden... To create Play’s illusion of chance and immediacy while still remaining dedicated to his chosen aesthetic philosophy, Östlund situates his camera in unlikely places, such as the intercarriage of a moving bus, forcing the viewer’s perspective to reorient itself with every horizontal sweep of the vehicle and thereby allowing his chosen environment to dictate much of the mounting anxiety.

  • “Play” makes the barbed implication that the thieves go unchallenged because those who might stop them fear appearing racist. But it is provocative simply in showing how trust is gained and kept, even after the swindled kids have understood their robbers’ motives. (Given that this is Sweden, perhaps they’re experiencing an unusually literal form of Stockholm syndrome.)

  • [Östlund] strategy remains fascinating and elusive, always partially obscuring distant action with foreground reality, and patiently letting incidents play out in breath-holding takes that never look away. It's the rare contemporary film that's as majestically and gruelingly rigorous in its form as in its thematic interrogations.

  • As in Force Majeure, which depicts the craven loss and ceremonial recovery of manhood, Play is concerned with the process of constructing and maintaining roles. The additional element of race in this earlier film makes it an altogether chewier piece of work, Östlund’s most interesting to date, depicting his countrymen as hidebound by manners and liberal conscientiousness, reserved to the point of being incapacitated by “Don’t get involved” skittishness.

More Links