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Final day of school in a small Polish town. It's the very last chance for a 12 year old Gabrysia to tell her classmate that she had fallen in love with him. She sets up a secret meeting and blackmails the boy to show up. But what was supposed to be an intimate talk spins out of control and leads to an unexpected ending.Written by
"There's no hope to be had in humanity, not even in children. I haven't been this torn apart, this disturbed, this uncomfortable since 'Irreversible' but at least I felt the soul and heartbreak behind that film, not the cold emptiness I feel now. A great film but I sincerely don't think I can rate it."
The above blurb is of my initial reaction to the latest transgressive Polish film "Plac Zabaw" (or "Playground" in English-speaking countries), which I wrote on Letterboxd upon exiting the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. I'm tempted to leave it as such but after sitting on it for a month I think it's worth a try to "recommend" or, at least, talk about this film in the hopes that someone may see it (if you can, since it seems finding a copy of this film is near impossible at the moment).
Playground can be called many things: "Irreversible" meets "Kids", social commentary, even "awful garbage", which was said by the two other people with me in the theater as they walked out. One of them was in tears. A testament to the film's power I think lies in the fact that it is able to draw such a reaction. Mind you, this is no "I Spit on Your Grave" trying to make money out of its shock appeal. At least, I don't think it is. Truth be told, a month has passed and I'm still on the fence over whether this film is art or exploitation. It is filled with both subtle and gratuitous violence, mostly unmotivated, wholly unexplained. There is something to be said about the three children it follows and their distinct class divisions. There is something to be said about the cruelty of childhood. There is something to be said about Polish youth today (recalling the right-wing youth protests in Poland last year). There is something to be said about poverty, media, humanity... but what does it all mean? These, I think, are crucial topics - not whether the film is violent, despicable, exploitative or this and that - whose conclusions viewers should reach themselves.
To briefly touch on the technical side, the film is certainly beautifully shot and uniquely structured and edited, making for a fine piece of European arthouse cinema. It is also riddled with symbolism and moments of quiet surrealism, in particular a fly which, not without purpose, found its way to the film's cover poster (I wonder what that could mean?).
One final note, I remember reading a little review of "Playground" that said: "You don't have to acquiesce to this kind of filmmaking. 'Oh but you're angry! It succeeded!' Cool, so rush hour traffic is now cinema. Good to know." My response to this is (1) it's impossible to equate the shock and anger this movie generates to the trivial and solvable frustration of rush hour traffic and (2) they are absolutely, no one needs to acquiesce to this kind of filmmaking, the right is yours, but those who choose to do so may indeed find a truly rewarding experience.
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