Play (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner12/07/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 118 mins

Impressively directed and often difficult to watch, this is a disturbing and thought-provoking Swedish drama with strong performances from its young cast.

What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Ruben Ostlund (Involuntary), Play is based on a real-life case of bullying in Gothenberg, Sweden. The film opens in a shopping mall, where a dispassionate camera (it could be a CCTV camera) observes, in a single take, as a group of five young immigrant boys (including Anas Abdirahman, Abdiaziz Hilowle, Nana Maru and Kevin Vaz) pressure a pair of young, middle-class Swedish boys into surrendering their mobile phones, claiming that their brother had an identical phone stolen from him.

The film then observes the immigrant boys play the same trick on another trio of young Swedish boys (including John Ortiz and Sebastian Blyckert), only this time they persuade the boys to accompany them out of town (ostensibly to take the phone to the supposed brother) and bully them over the course of several hours, with the immigrants occasionally taking overly aggressive or friendly roles, good cop/bad cop style.

The Good
Ostlund's drama became something of a talking point in the Swedish media and it's not hard to see why, as it offers no easy answers and forces the audience to confront their own prejudices and assumptions. This is illustrated clearly with a coda in the film, where the father of one of the first two boys confronts one of the bullies and takes his phone (assuming it belongs to his son), only to be set upon by two angry Swedish women, accusing him of persecuting an innocent refugee.

The dispassionate, Michael Haneke-style single takes (usually in long or medium shot – there are no close-ups) are extremely effective and often difficult to watch, particularly once you realise there will be no cutaways from whatever might be about to happen. Ostlund also toys with audience expectations in a way that subtly echoes Haneke's Funny Games – at one point one of the boys appears to escape, only for it to transpire that he's running away due to a more pressing trouser-based emergency that is subsequently revealed in unnecessarily graphic detail.

The Great
Ostlund gets terrific performances from his young cast, particularly Kevin Vaz as the most outspoken and unpredictable of the immigrant boys (there's a moment where they turn on one of their own gang that is devastating to watch). In addition, the film carries an extra potency if you were ever bullied at school, because it's likely to induce uncomfortable flashbacks; in particular, Ostlund strongly captures the sense of powerlessness, accompanied by factors of peer pressure and loyalty between friends.

Worth seeing?
Play is a superbly directed Swedish drama that explores an emotive issue in an intriguingly dispassionate way; it's often difficult to watch, but you can't tear yourself away from it. Recommended.

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Content updated: 22/07/2018 15:50

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