AFI Fest

One of the major trends in recent years has been to construct movies that interweave a string of disparate subplots in place of one gripping narrative. From comedies like "Love Actually" to award-winning dramas like "Traffic" and "Babel," this format seems to intrigue some of our most inventive filmmakers. But the Swedish "Involuntary," which was in the narrative competition at this year's AFI Fest, doesn't measure up to the best of these multiple narrative movies. Director Ruben Ostlund has failed to provide enough connective tissue linking the separate stories, and the static cinematography keeps us at a distance throughout. While lovers of avant garde cinema may be intrigued, their numbers are steadily dwindling.

One might argue that most of the stories focus on stubborn, misguided individuals who create a certain discomfort among friends and family. A bus driver who is angry that none of the passengers will confess to breaking a curtain rod in the bathroom refuses to continue with the journey until the guilty party confesses. During an outing by a group of macho buddies, one of them humiliates a pal by indulging in homoerotic games. Two young teenage girls behave provocatively and inappropriately in front of their friends. And a teacher gets involved in a case of corporal punishment of a student.

We expect these stories to intersect, but instead they are completely self-contained narratives that rarely reach a potent dramatic conclusion. More irritating is Ostlund's shooting style, which consists of very long takes from an unmoving camera, often from the backs of the heads of important characters. There's little reason for this frustrating visual style except directorial capriciousness. One must admit that the cast members bring utter conviction to their roles, and some of the characters come to life without a lot of help from the script. Technical credits are accomplished if misguided. Sum this up as an experimental movie that has no place outside the rarefied atmosphere of a film festival.

Production: Platform Produktion.
Cast: Cecilia Milocco, Villmar Bjorkman, Linnea Cart-Lamy, Leif Edlund, Sara Eriksson.
Director-Editor: Ruben Ostlund.
Screenwriters: Ruben Ostlund, Erik Hemmendorff.
Producer: Erik Hemmendorff.
Executive producers: Gunnar Carlsson, Tomas Eskilsson.
Director of photography: Marius Dybwad Brandrud.
Art directors: Pia Aleborg, Hanne Palmquist.
No MPAA rating, 98 minutes.