Sunday, January 4, 2015

De ofrivilliga (Involuntary) (2008)

Director: Ruben Östlund
Writers:  Ruben Östlund, Erik Hemmendroff
Cast:       Villmar Bjorkman, Linnea Cart-Lamy, Leif Edlund
Language: Swedish

The film, directed by Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure), is a tragic comedy or comic tragedy as described by him featuring five parallel stories with human group behavior as the common theme. It makes itself very clear during the classroom scene where a student knowingly makes a mistake just to conform with the group when she is unaware that the teacher told had already rest of the students to disagree with the obvious right answers that she would give in order to demonstrate it. 

It took me some time to figure out what was happening. When you have multiple story lines you are biased to look for them to converge physically. In stead in this film the director is going for a common theme that connects them all together. Still there are some scenes which are disguised to make us think that we are watching a different story to the one being shown and these show us up for the judgement that we make on characters based on prejudice. The film opens with a scene from the perspective of windshield of a vehicle gliding through streets without encountering any traffic. This scene is repeated again at the end but we realize that it is from an Ambulance for which road has been cleared and with the absence of music it feels very different. The five story lines in the film are:

1) A party in a house where the host gets smashed in the face by some fireworks. He refuses to go to hospital because he doesn't want to be a spoilsport even as the male members in the party consoles the wife that these things are not explosives and practically not dangerous at all. You can now guess where the ambulance fits into the story.

2) Two teenage girls acting as such in a very teenage fashion taking kinky pictures of themselves and behaving like drunk hooligans. The group is absent in most of this story line but I guess they are trying to behave as per normal teenage stereotype.

3) The school story line where a teacher stands up against the abusive behavior towards an unruly student by her much senior colleague, only to leave her alienated from rest of the staff. 

4) A frat reunion holiday in which one of them takes exception to the sexual prank committed on him by his best friend only to make a u-turn when he felt isolated from the group.

5) A long distance bus driver who refuses to drive further unless the passenger who damaged the curtain rod in the toiler owns up.

In all these story lines the people who took a stand against the group are on the right ultimately but we question their actions in almost all the cases. We are also prone to the group behavior even when we are far removed from the actions and observe them like the cameraman in this film where it is most of the time still. Film is characterized by very long takes.

Overall it is a great watch even though it takes some time for you to connect the dots. Five stories in which there are no commonality in terms of time or space can be disorienting initially but it is definitely worth persevering with. Not nearly as tough as watching Michael Haneke's '71 fragments of a Chronology of Chance ', which I didn't like.

Rating: 4/5