"Involuntary": On Interpersonal Dynamics By Josefina Sartora

in 26th Miami International Film Festival

by Josefina Sartora

The FIPRESCI award went unanimously to Involuntary (De Ofrivilliga), Swedish Ruben Östlund’s second feature, and one of the most radical films in the competition. Involuntary’s structure is the sum of many little parallel pictures or vignettes of five groups that will never connect to one another. The premise is one scene-one shot, each ending in a fade-to black, and the camera, still almost every time, shoots part of the scene, fragmenting it and leaving important parts of it out of the frame: sometimes we cannot see of the interlocutor’s head or even important members of the group, increasing the importance of the out-of-framing sight and sound. Everything revolves about group behavior, or even more, about how one member´s decisions affects the rest of the group. In addition it shows how people cannot take responsibility for their offences against other people, and the offences here are many.

Two teenagers and their coming-on-age, with sex and drinking driving them to problems; an abuser teacher and his colleague, who assumes a kind of collective conscience; a week-end with a group of macho friends which can scarcely avoid or ignore their homosexuality; a “minor accident at a birthday party, and the guests’ reactions; an over responsible bus driver, who tries to take justice in his own way. In almost all the cases someone is “involuntarily” going beyond the border or an edge, and trespasses the frontier between freedom and abuse. On the other hand, some of them face a moral dilemma between speaking or staying silent, affecting the whole interpersonal behavior. These collective stories are played by a wonderful but not well-known cast.

The film has an emotional distance that is also reflected in some long, panoramic still shots. Its visual economy corresponds to a lack of morally explicit lessons. The shooting style, the fragmentation, the distanced vision, its despair, the skeptical attitude and a special kind of humor reminded me of another Swede Roy Andersson, even if this one is nor so absurd nor as dark as his films usually are.

While other films in the competition were wonderfully realized and also have important social and political meanings — for example Teza, Paper soldier (Bumaznyj soldat) or even Bullet in the Head (Tiro en la cabeza) – Involuntary is a more subtle piece of art, leaving its many meanings and connotations as open as its shooting is. Because the work doesn’t end in itself, but asks some personal commitment from the public, who cannot keep playing the role of voyeurs that the film seems to offer.