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"Viewers look for signatures"

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Philippe Bober • Exporter

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- Interview with Philippe Bober, who heads up Coproduction Office, and is the international seller and co-producer of The Square, winner of the Palme d'Or 2017

Philippe Bober  • Exporter
(© UniversCiné)

Three days after the triumph at the 70th Cannes Film Festival of The Square [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
by Ruben Ostlund, we caught up with Philippe Bober, the loyal international seller and co-producer (with French companies Coproduction Office and Parisienne de Production) of the Swede’s films. It was an opportunity to gauge the impact of a Palme d’Or on a seller who previously won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2014 for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Roy Andersson
film profile
]
by Roy Andersson and has also sold, among others, films by Jessica Hausner, Ulrich Seidl, Thomas Clay and even Michelangelo Frammartino.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: When did you come across Ruben Ostlund?
Philippe Bober
: With his short film Autobiographical Scene Number 6882, in 2005, when I was working as a programmer at the Sarajevo Film Festival. Erik Hemmendorff (Plattform Produktion) pitched it to us and we chose it. It’s a short film split into two sequence-shots, which has Ruben Ostlund’s trademark stamp all over it, especially the sense of humour, an amused perspective on group dynamics and a pretty clear eye for framing. We stayed in touch and I saw Erik and Ruben again at the Cinemart 2007 for the presentation of Happy Sweden [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Erik Hemmendorff
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
(Involuntary). They had already shot a few scenes and I decided to participate in the project as an international seller. The film was chosen for Un Certain Regard at Cannes and sold rather well.

A Palme d'Or for an international seller, it’s a guaranteed jackpot surely?
The Square had already been sold in pretty much all the major territories: before Cannes we sold it to the United States (Magnolia), the United Kingdom (Curzon Artificial Eye), France and the Benelux countries (Bac Films), Germany (Alamode) and Switzerland (Xenix), then on the home stretch just before the first screening at Cannes, to fifteen or so other countries. And then we covered the rest of the world before winning the Palme.

Is this Palme d'Or, coming as it has after working together for over ten years, a result for you?
What I always say, is that viewers look for signatures. It’s been mathematically proven that what European viewers want to see are films whose writers have their own trademark styles. If we look at the European films that travel best after being shown in and out of competition at Cannes, at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, you can see there are two types. The first type are films by writers on their 4th or 5th feature that end up surpassing the million admissions mark outside their countries of origin. The other type are big French or English productions. It takes time to get there though. It’s perhaps the time it takes the writer to mature and learn, but it’s also about the time it takes for all the links in the chain to take the writer’s signature into account, as is only right. The Square pre-sold very well before winning the Palme because previous films by Ruben Ostlund gradually made a name for themselves and because Snow Therapy [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
was such a big commercial success; moreover, the screenplay for The Square was richer and better constructed, with more developed characters. Lots of elements combined to make distributors willing to pay a lot more to pre-purchase The Square on the basis of the screenplay. But coming back to what I originally said, Ruben Ostlund rose to prominence with Snow Therapy and was on the point of being known to viewers. Of course now, with the Palme d’Or, that’s happened and people know his name. Before The Square, people referred to Ruben as the director of Snow Therapy, whilst afterwards, they will say: "it’s a film by Ruben Ostlund".

(Translated from French)

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