INVOLUNTARY (De ofrivilliga)
Just how polite are the Swedish? Director Ruben Östlund seems to think unfortunately so in this quietly observant comedy of social niceties, awkwardness and repression. The story follows an assorted cast of characters of varying generations and professions and their dealings with different social groups over the course of two days. Amongst them: a student who unwillingly succumbs to peer pressure, a father who sustains an injury yet is too headstrong to let that stop him from entertaining his guests, an all-male camping group who cross all sorts of intimacy barriers with each other. None of these characters’ lives intersect, yet the common thread that runs throughout is this deeply embedded human propensity to internalise things.
The plot unfolds in a static, vignetted fashion, almost in the same vein as Ostlund’s Swedish comic contemporary Roy Andersson, however here the staging is a lot more realistic and matter-of-fact. Scenes mainly comprise of a single camera shot that a lot of the time excises peripheral detail such as people’s faces in favour of more practical framing that can capture most of the action without the need for multiple angles or cuts. This allows each social interaction to play out casually and surprisingly, usually at a duration that observes their uncomfortable entirety. While it may be distancing for some, the deliberate and sometimes accidental choices of what’s clearly presented and what isn’t fits interestingly with the themes of hidden communication within the film. Interactions are never taken to extremes for comic effect either, and in fact in some cases take dramatic turns which helps to underscore the tragic consequences of not saying what you mean when you mean to say it or saying what you mean when no one else seems to be doing so.
The director also seems to be highlighting the different approaches to communication between the sexes; in more than one instance it is the role of the female that has to speak out against the male-dominated social stronghold. One male character in particular also goes so far as to hand a female co-worker a note written by his ex-wife just to see if she is able to decipher it. Overall this is a smart, wryly funny examination of human behaviour that presents our ingrained habits in all their absurdity.
movie rating: 3.5/5
Involuntary will be out in UK & Ireland on DVD From February 28th.