Tuesday 26 September 2017

Movies: Involuntary ***

(Club, IFI)

Paul Whitington

For most of Ruben östlund's Involuntary you feel like you're watching some kind of hideously intrusive fly-on-the-wall documentary, but in fact it's a carefully crafted episodic drama that coolly observes the vicissitudes of human behaviour.

Sweden is often patted on the back for its social cohesion and economic rectitude, but if östlund's film is anything to go by, there's a downside to that in a tendency towards sheep-like consensus.

In a string of painstakingly constructed social dilemmas, a common theme tends to be the cowardice and stupidity of the crowd.

When a conscientious young teacher reports a male colleague for hitting a student in the face, it's her rather than him that the rest of the staff ostracises.

A group of 30-something morons on a boisterous trip to the country close ranks in some confusion when several of their group become involved in what in any other circumstance would qualify as a male-on-male sexual assault.

Elsewhere, two precocious teenage girls risk more than a hangover when they go on a drinking spree in a public park. And a minor incident in the toilets leads to a thoroughly absurd stand-off on an intercity bus. In my favourite episode, an obnoxiously pompous pater familias is hit in the face with a firework when he leans in to see why it hasn't taken off.

Shot in a series of impressive single takes, Involuntary is often sharply observed, and charged with bleak Scandinavian humour -- some of which I suspect has been lost in translation.

But sometimes you feel a bit guilty about laughing, and there's something unsettlingly bleak and uncharitable about Mr östlund's view of human nature. We're not that bad, are we?

Irish Independent

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