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Involuntary

Structured like a set of interspersed, but not interconnected, short films, sophomore outing for helmer Ruben Ostlund features characters ranging from teens to the late-middle-age.

The nature of group dynamics is explored in amusing if stinging fashion in Swedish ensembler “Involuntary.” Structured like a set of interspersed, but not interconnected, short films, sophomore outing for helmer Ruben Ostlund (“The Guitar Mongoloid”) features characters ranging from teens to the late-middle-age, often facing moral dilemmas about when to speak up or stay silent. Offbeat lensing style and quirky humor could make pic an attractive choice for fest programmers.

At a birthday party, a firework catches birthday boy Villmar (Villmar Bjorkman ) in the face, but he soldiers on through the festivities, apparently too wary of ruining the night for everyone if he reveals how injured he really is. Elsewhere, a bus driver (Henrik Vikman) refuses to resume the journey at a rest stop until someone owns up to pulling the little curtain off the window in the toilet. Swedish star Maria Lundqvist, riffing off her own persona by playing a well-known actress forced to endure unwanted attention, is one of the frustrated passengers.

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Meanwhile, somewhere in Gothenburg, two teenage girls pout, strip and touch each other up for a digital camera, a sequence that would seem uncomfortably sleazy if their girly chatter (semi-improvised, like much of the dialogue here) didn’t sound so authentic and innocent. In another strand, a schoolteacher performs a psychological experiment on her class to illustrate the power of peer pressure, and later defies her colleagues’ conformity to reveal a fellow teacher’s inappropriate use of force on a pupil.

Finally, the jolly atmosphere of a drunken reunion of twentysomething men is soured when Leffe (Leif Edlund Johansson) enlists the others’ help to hold down Olle (Olle Lijas) so Leffe can briefly suck his penis. Leffe tries to play the moment off as a joke, but he seems awfully enthusiastic about such “gay” fun and games.

Perfs, by a mixture of non-pros and little-known thesps, are impressively naturalistic and spontaneous. Ostlund has a knack for comedy, although his script, co-written with Erik Hemmendorff, is a little opaque about where it stands on the morality of each strand’s situation.

Opening shot focusing on just people’s feet and calves as guests arrive at Villmar’s birthday party establishes the skewered style helmer will take, and each of pic’s five story strands are meted out in sets of two or three long-held shots. Framing is consistently perverse, with obstructions in the way, only the backs of heads visible, or everything from the neck up cut off altogether.

Approach adds flair, but seems a little mannered at times.

Running time feels a little distended by the end, and pic could lose 10 minutes or so to sharpen it up.

Involuntary

Sweden

  • Production: A Coproduction Office presentation of a Plattform Produktion production, in association with Film I Vast, Sveriges Television, with the support of the Swedish Film Institute, Nordisk Film- & TV Fond. (International sales: The Coproduction Office, Paris.) Produced by Erik Hemmendorff. Executive producers, Gunnar Carlsson, Tomas Eskilsson. Directed, edited by Ruben Ostlund. Screenplay, Ostlund, Erik Hemmendorff.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Marius Dybwad Brandrud; art directors, Pia Aleborg, Vanja Sandell Billstrom; costume designer, Pia Aleborg; sound (Dolby Digital), Jens De Place Bjorn. Reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 19, 2008. Running time: 101 MINS.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Villmar Bjorkman, Lola Ewerlund, Maria Lundqvist, Henrik Vikman, Linnea Cart-Larny, Sara Eriksson, Cecilia Milocco, Olle Lijas, Leif Edlund Johansson, Vera Vitali.
  • Music By: