Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Ruben Östlund’s INVOLUNTARY

A review

Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary joins the list of recent Swedish films that have made to the world stage, such as Daniel Alfredson’s Millennium Trilogy (based on Stieg Larsson’s books), Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In (based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel), and Roy Andersson’s You The Living, between others.

Five interlaced stories run throughout the film, structured in clearly delineated cinematic tableaux, like paintings with moving figures: long takes with the camera left to roll in fixed positions, the actors moving in and our –sometimes just out as we only hear their voices, or moving towards the lens until becoming blurred. It is almost as if Involuntary were an exercise in mass observation, although the development of the stories in the timeline of the tableaux have been carefully constructed and orchestrated.

The link between these stories can be defined with just two words: peer pressure. How spontaneous and individual are our decisions? How much are they influenced by our desire, our need, conscious or not, to fit into a social group, into patterns of established and accepted behaviours within that group, or to fit into a intellectual or ideological construct? Key is the tale of the little girl who finally gives the response that was expected from her in the classroom, although she knew it was the wrong answer.

The recurrent feel of mass observation pervades the film, as the actors (all of them novices with the exception of Maria Lundqvist) play their fictitious lives as if they were their only lives, this is the degree of naturalism present in the acting. I noticed that the actors’ names are also the names of the characters they play, so Maria Lundqvist is Maria Lundqvist. I understand that most scenes were rehearsed several times, and took several takes before (50 or 60) making into the finished film (with the exception of the striptease scene with the two teenage girls, Linnea and Sara), a technique that streamline the understanding and absorption of the parts being played. This documentary feel to Involuntary is reinforced by the almost complete absence of a music track, the sounds being those of background conversations and noises, passing traffic, birdsong, children playing, all choreographed to punctuate specific moments in the film.

The tone of the camera is neutral and non-judgemental, almost tender at times in its outlook of the follies of us, human creatures; while, at other times, that coldness makes difficult to engage with the characters as we do not see them with the warmth present in, let say, Andersson’s You The Living. It prompted a desire to walk into the film to talk and argue with the characters and their transgressions, before realizing that the desire is actually to engage ourselves, as if we were the other. Have no doubt, the characters up there on the screen are no more than proxies, the camera is actually filming us, the audience. There is not a single one scene in the film that most people would have experienced in their lives, I dare to say. I was glad to see that Sweden also suffers a problem with drifting teenagers, drinking to stupor and falling into vandalism and what is called antisocial and reckless behaviour, the camera lens bearing witness to their antics.

The tale of Henrik, the coach driver, is, perhaps, the clearest of all: a social situation that becomes a trap, enslaving all those who are involved in it, feelings of unspoken embarrassment and guilt hiding just below the surface, as the camera pointed at the reflections on the coach windows hints.

Involuntary, with is dry, hilarious and, sometimes, dark humour, does not produce a immediate reward: the secret is in the details of each tableau, we miss them, and the film becomes meaningless and, even, tedious. We, the audience, have to work to reap the rewards.Yet, the prize for your efforts is a cinematic gem: this is a tender film that will haunt you for days to come.

Some films are like good wines: they get better and better as they mature. Involuntary is one of those, several days after having seen it, the smile is still on my face.

Do I need to say any more?

Director: Ruben Östlund | Sweden | 98 mins 


Villmar Björkman, Lola Ewerlund, Mia Ericsson, Hanna Lekander, Simeon Henry Nordius, Maricel Amance, Rikard Borg, Leif Ericsson, Margret Andersson, Staffan Mau, Eva Mau, Thomas Petéus, Guje Palm

Maria Lundqvist, Henrik Vikman, Ida Linnertorp, Birgitta Sundberg, Tommy Bech, Filip Nilsson, Edvin Daal, Lars Melin, Mikael Bundsen, Wille Lindelöw, Niklas Månsson, Emil Olsson, Jonny Jänsby, Malin Rosenqvist, Anna Karlsson

Linnea Cart-Lamy, Sara Eriksson, Moa Mathiesen, Malin Segerblad, Kenneth Bodin, Fanny Askerfors, Jonas Harström, Ludwig Palmell, Daniel Brandt, Lars G Svensson Elisabeth Cart-Lamy

Cecilia Milocco, Alicia Gustavsson, Ulf Lundstedt, Axel Hurtig, Gunilla Johansson, Biggan Hjelt, Ylva Nilsson, Josef Säterhagen, Per Johansson, Birte Niederhaus, Pupils From Lyrfågelskolan

Leif Edlund Johansson, Olle Liljas, P-A Emanuelsson, Pär Berg, Jonas Pärlbäck, Johan Bylund, Krister Bården, Vera Vitali


Stills and trailer © Trinity

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