Focus on Competitor Movie Play

Focus on Competitor Movie Play

Focus on Play by Nick Shaw, British member of '27 Times Cinema'*. Play is the new film by award-winning Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund and comes to us from a successful premier at this year's Cannes Director's fortnight. The film is on the face of it, a fairly simple story about every meaning of the word “play”. 


A group of young Swedish teenagers, on the cusp of adolescence, encounter a group of bullies from an ethnic minority in a shopping mall. The boys are naïve, shy and yet are somewhat enamoured with the idea of adulthood's thrills. Allowed some time away from their parents to explore the mall, they wander aimlessly into a petty argument over a mobile phone with some other boys who lead them away and into a web of extortion, deceit and stupidity.


The film can also be read as an examination of power relationships, specifically the risks engendered by relationships with an imbalance of power. The protagonists are young and accommodating while their tormentors are clever, savvy and simply out for a good time. The elaborate con devised by the bad kids is typical of the machinations of a bully, and the film goes deep into the emotional states of bullying, and how it is to be bullied.


The fact that these aggressors are entirely black throws into relief an interesting dynamic of race relationships in modern Sweden. For example, While the protagonists are white, they also the bullied. This is not to say that Ostlund is suggesting a superficial power imbalance inSweden between cultures, moreover that successive waves of migration and integration have given Sweden minority groups who have knowledge of their own image. The bullies use the fear that their blackness creates to strengthen their game, mocking the younger boys by saying: “Why would you give your phone to a bunch of black kids, you idiot?” This shows Ostlund´s sensitivity to the current climate of the consequences of migration.


Stylistically, the film is distanced from the action, creating a voyeuristic point of view that serves to turn the audience into helpless observers, as in the theatre, rather than any genre of participant in the action. Ultimately all meanings of the word “play” are covered, the play of the boys in genuine joy, the way a con is a sort of subtle theatre and the way Ostlund makes us watch the film from beyond the fourth wall, through the “proscenium arch”. This is a fine way to lay bare the inevitable consequences of bullying in modern Sweden.


* Via '27 Times Cinema' established in 2010, the LUX Prize gives the opportunity to 27 European young cinema lovers to be substantially involved in the Venice International Film Festival where they can watch, report and reflect upon films.