Saturday, October 11, 2014

Politically Incorrect but Correct Nonetheless

Play (2011) - Östlund
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I remember mentioning in my short observations of Östlund's Involuntary (De Ofrivilliga) that there are many moments that only Swedes would find humorous. But in Play, it's more universal because it concerns race. I can totally understand why Play has never come out (and played) in the States. It would've been automatically grilled by the PC dominated left and quickly condemned as racist. This is why daring Northern European filmmakers, Ulrich Seidl, Michael Haneke and now Östlund can tackle the subject of race in their much more homogenized but socially rapidly changing home countries while we Americans, avoid the subject like ebola. At first glance, Play is downright racist and uncomfortably so - two white kids and an Asian boy, probably from a well to do families at the shopping mall are ganged up and mercilessly bullied by 5 black kids who are little older than them. These loud and obnoxious black kids, set up a trap (it seems it's their routine), asking to see their intended victim's phone and claim that phone is the same phone stolen from someone they know. In order to verify this fact, the victims should come with them and eventually being tricked into giving away all their belongings. In fear, the white kids follow them, like sheep.

Östlund's display on the rigid society gripped with fear of being seen as politically incorrect is everywhere - from American Indian culture appropriation by a group of South American street musicians in full getups and their Swedish spectators, mouth agape and don't know what to make of the spectacle, train conductor's extremely polite announcement (and later their decision to make announcement in English) of removing a huge wooden crib that's blocking the doors in between first and second class cars, Cafe owners' hesitation to call the cops against the black kids 'until big things happen' and so on.

Just like Involuntary, Play is a constant cringe fest. It's uncomfortable because he puts up the mirror on our polite selves. Östlund refuses to show the black kids in better light. "Society made them that way," would be a way too simple explanation. They act violent and obnoxious because they can get away with it. They are playing the stereotypical role that white privileged folks put on them. They taunt on white folks' appropriation of 'black' culture as wide-ranging as from dreadlocks to Lion King themed school dance. Ordinary Swedish citizens don't know how to deal with them other than look down at their feet or call law on them. They don't know how to interact face to face with these peeps. Funny but pointed and not all the way successful, Play, just like Seidl's Paradise Trilogy, is an interesting film that needs to be seen widely and being discussed further.