Set against the inner city backdrop of central Gothenburg, Play details an elaborate scheme known as the ‘little brother number’. Using this, a group of boys aged 12-14 persistently rob other children through role-play rather than pure physical violence. Based on a series of real-life incidents recorded by Swedish police, the film re-enacts a day in the life of these young thieves – and their victims.
Play opens with a long, single take, as a slowly roving camera surveys the scene in a large, soulless shopping centre. Eventually it settles on a group of African immigrant boys who approach three local, middle class boys. Asking to use one of their mobile phones, the first group accuses the second group of having stolen it from one of their brothers, insisting that the boys come with them to settle the matter with the brother in person.
With implied menace rather than brute force, the intimidated victims are made to follow the group in an apparent search for the brother through the streets, and on the trams and buses of Gothenburg. Finally this leads them out to the countryside, where events come to a head.
Using a steadicam, often in fixed positions, Östlund places the audience as voyeurs, watching a piece of street theatre play out. This is not only challenging to watch on the surface but it constantly leads us to evaluate and re-evaluate how we ourselves feel about the morality of the tale on screen. The extreme role-play depicted in the film is performed by non-actors using improvised dialogue, and the result is hard-hitting yet supremely crafted.
“Play is elegantly shot… punctuated by unlikely moments of humour… a fascinating exercise in psychology”
- Mark Adams, Screen International
Incident by a Bank
Ruben Östlund | Sweden | 2010 | 10min
A reconstruction of an attempted robbery witnessed by Ruben Östlund and his producer Erik Hemmendorff in central Stockholm, and recreated using 96 extras. Giving the illusion that the scene is shot in a single take, this short film tested out the new camera technique that Östlund employed in his next feature film - Play.
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