by Annika Pham
- Ruben Östlund's second feature film has grabbed the attention of festivals and critics with its realistic and refreshing look at Swedish society filmed with unconventional techniques
Ruben Östlund’s second feature film, revealed to world audiences in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard 2008, has grabbed the attention of festivals and critics with its realistic and refreshing look at Swedish society filmed with unconventional techniques.
Strongly anchored in today’s generation of YouTube image-savvy filmmakers, Östlund makes a provocative and innovative portrayal of contemporary Sweden with Involuntary [+see also:
interview: Erik Hemmendorff
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile], a non-linear feature with five separate stories linked together by one central theme: the power of a group over an individual. Why does an individual act in a certain way when in a group and under peer pressure, putting aside right and wrong, one’s own dignity and common sense, and to what extent? Those are some of the questions raised by the five portrayals of individuals taken from various social and age groups to give different perspectives to the central topic.
The languishing and festive summer period has arrived, with its unexpected twists. A man celebrating his 60th birthday is involuntarily hurt by a firecracker but refuses to get medical help out of fear of ruining the party for his friends. A thirty-something man suffers physical and mental humiliation from his male friends during a boozy bonding weekend in the countryside. Teenage girls caught in the binge drinking culture and You Tube influence play social and sexual games until one of them, who has passed out, is left alone in a park. A teacher who has shown her pupils the dangers of peer pressure takes a stand against a colleague who has been physically abusive with a child, facing rejection herself. And an actress on a bus is caught in a situation where she lets someone else take the blame for something she has done.
The involving scenes are often cut short when unease starts to build, to create a sense of frustration for the viewer or to leave space for the arbitrary. Östlund makes use of long shots with a stationary camera (like in his previous film, The Guitar Mongoloid adding awkward, often amusing, angles, such as the opening scene of a discussion between characters who are filmed at foot level. The cast of majority non-professionals (apart from Maria Lundqvist, who plays herself in the bus episode) is convincing and the feeling of authenticity is conveyed by the free use of improvisation.
Involuntary was produced by the filmmaker’s company Plattform Produktion, in co-production with Film i Väst, Swedish public broadcaster SVT, and with support from the Swedish Film Institute and Nordisk Film & TV Fond. Sales are handled by The Coproduction Office, who sold the film to Benelux, Greece, and the UK, among others.
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