×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Play

A gang of five boys of African origin from the wrong side of Gothenburg's tracks scam a trio of slightly younger middle-class kids in "Play," Swedish helmer Ruben Ostlund's formally interesting but overlong third feature.

With:
With: Anas Abdirahman, Sebastian Blyckert, Yannick Diakite, Sebastian Hegmar, Abdiaziz Hilowle, Nana Manu, John Ortiz, Kevin Vaz. (Swedish, Arabic dialogue)

A gang of five boys of African origin from the wrong side of Gothenburg’s tracks scam a trio of slightly younger middle-class kids in “Play,” Swedish helmer Ruben Ostlund’s formally interesting but overlong third feature. Pic is a little too pleased with its own evenhanded presentation of liberal moral conundrums, but there’s no gainsaying Ostlund’s remarkable achievement in coaxing entirely naturalistic perfs from his young core cast, which improvises the dialogue throughout. “Play” looks likely to frolic at further fests, and might even secure limited theatrical distribution beyond Scandinavia, traveling further than Ostlund’s last, “Involuntary.”

A quintet of black kids (Anas Abdirahman, Yannick Diakite, Abdiaziz Hilowle, Nana Manu and Kevin Vaz) use intimidation tactics and complex head games with three better-off kids (two of them, Sebastian Blyckert and Sebastian Hegmar, are white, and one, John Ortiz, is Asian-looking)in a tale inspired by a local news story about a cohort of Gothenburg kids who pulled the same trick on others over a period of years.

The purpose of the exercise isn’t just to get material goods, which they could simply mug off the middle-class kids at any point. The perpetrators clearly enjoy making their victims squirm, playing good-cop/bad-cop dynamics in what’s effectively a bit of sadistic street theater; hence the pic’s dual-meaning, English-language title.

Moreover, the black kids are entirely aware that their skin color gives them an upper hand, not just because they know their victims are likely to be afraid of African immigrants, but more importantly because they’re sure that the whites’ shame about having such fears in the first place will inhibit their attempts to run away or get help from grown-ups. So wary is everyone about the race issue that no one even uses the word “black” until near the end, and even then it’s one of the children of color. Lest all this makes the Afro-Swedish kids look too much like the villains, Ostlund throws in a confrontation between one of them and the father of one of the white kids, to the horror of liberal onlookers, who see only a white guy bullying a poor black kid.

In other words, the screenplay over-milks the morality angle, producing what feels sometimes like a core text for high-school civics class. It’s a flaw in an otherwise impressively assembled work that uses the latest generation of Red cameras to capture long-held shots that, per press notes, were so high-resolution that editors Ostlund and Jacob Schulsinger could readjust the framing in post-production, apparently the first time the technique has been used for a feature.

Within these precisely composed frames, the drama compels most of the time, especially when the loyalties and allegiances begin to shift among the eight youngsters, who were all non-pros when the pic was made. That said, it’s no surprise to learn that one of them, standout Vaz, is now pursuing a career in acting, so good is his performance here as the duplicitous “good cop” who’s secretly that gang’s ringleader.

All the same, pic is about half an hour longer than it needs to be, and could have dispensed entirely with a subplot very reminiscent of a similar story in “Involuntary.”

Play

Sweden-France-Denmark

Production: A Plattform Produktion, Coproduction Office, Parisienne de Production production in association with Film i Vast, Sveriges Television, Sonet Film, Arte/ZDF, with the support of the Swedish Film Institute, the Danish Film Institute, ZDF/Arte, Nordisk Film & TV Fond. (International sales: the Coproduction Office, Paris.) Produced by Erik Hemmendorff, Philippe Bober. Directed, written by Ruben Ostlund.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Marius Dybwad Brandrud; editors, Ostlund, Jacob Schulsinger; music, Saunder Jurriaans, Daniel Bensi; production designer/costume designer, Pia Aleborg; sound (Dolby Digital), Jens De Place Bjorn; sound designers, Jan Alvermark, Robert Sorling, Claes Lundberg; re-recording mixers, Alvermark, Sorling, Lundberg, Owe Svensson; creative consultant, Kalle Boman; line producers, Marie Kjellson, Sarag Nagel; associate producers, Jessica Ask, Gunnar Carlsson, Peter Possne, Alexander Bohr; casting, Katja Wik. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 15, 2011. Running time: 118 MIN.

Cast: With: Anas Abdirahman, Sebastian Blyckert, Yannick Diakite, Sebastian Hegmar, Abdiaziz Hilowle, Nana Manu, John Ortiz, Kevin Vaz. (Swedish, Arabic dialogue)

More Scene

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content