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Film review: Play (15)


The Swedish film-maker Ruben Ostlund is making an art form out of the cringeworthy. This truth-based drama builds on the vignettes of embarrassment and manipulation he explored in Involuntary.

 In a Gothenburg shopping mall, five black teenagers work a scam to rob three middle-class boys of their mobile phones; their method is based on an elaborate strategy of intimidation mixed with reasonableness, a sort of perverted good cop/bad cop routine.

Ostlund's camera maintains a curious, unnerving stare as the scam proceeds, almost in real time, and your toes begin to curl at the excruciating collusion between victim and bully.

Ostlund overplays it in the last third by shifting the perspective from teenage bullying to the adult kind, thereby diluting the drama's implicit issues of race and class. But he knows how to build tension from extremes of banality.