Writer/director Laura Wendel’s debut feature explores children’s savagery and exclusion in the playground, and whether what may feel like the right thing to do might not always necessarily be for the best.
No-one likes a bully. Neither the victim nor the person seeing it happen. In this case it is Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) who witnesses her older brother Abel (Günter Duret) being systematically victimised by a group of boys in their school playground. Rushing to his aid he pushes her away and tells her to not get involved, leaving her with a painful dilemma; should she report the abuse or remain loyal to her brother, leaving them both to endure a shared misery?
The atmosphere is immersive and claustrophobic. The camera follows Nora exclusively, even staying at her height, passing from situation to situation. She is in every frame, which although effectively highlights the isolation of her predicament, quickly becomes distracting. Being allowed to observe the other characters from a more neutral perspective, other than just Nora’s viewpoint, would perhaps have given a more enriching, broader picture.
Deplorable and distressing as Abel’s victimisation is, and although feeling a fair amount of empathy for his justifiably melancholic disposition, I found it hard to root for him. He comes across as quite mean-spirited and even rather cruel to Nora, as she gets increasingly involved, ultimately leading us to feel more sympathy towards her. After all, she also has to suffer the indignation of her own friends after they find out her brother is being humiliated and ostracised.
Playground is a grim, harsh look at bullying and the repercussions of taking action against it. Hard-hitting, though often one-sided and without much character background, it tackles a serious and always relevant subject, asking questions and provoking thought.
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