Ruben Östlund • Director
"European movie-theatre culture needs reviving"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Swedish director Ruben Östlund, jury president at the 10th Les Arcs Film Festival, talks European cinema, platforms and his latest project, The Triangle of Sadness
We met up with the Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, Cannes Palme d'Or winner in 2017 with The Square [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile], at the 10th edition of Les Arcs Film Festival, where he is chairing the competition jury – a return to the alpine resort where he shot his previous film, Force Majeure [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
Cineuropa: Just after your Palme d'Or win at Cannes, you told me that even if you were given a huge offer, you wouldn't want to make a film in the United States. Why? Is it to do with cinematography? Or is it for cultural reasons, related to your European roots?
Ruben Östlund: These are two different ways to define cinema. There are a lot of exciting aspects to American cinema, and although it’s not necessarily what it was in the '70s and '80s, there are still directors out there with very interesting directing styles. Whereas in Europe, cinema has always been a way of asking questions about the type of society we’re striving for and a way understanding what it means to be human. European cinema has so many more political connections to art, and that's what I prefer. Also, when it comes to American film culture, the producer is really the film’s driving force, while in Europe, it's the director. I also run my own production company with my friend, Erik Hemmendorff, so even if I were to work with an international cast, it would always be in the form of a Swedish or European film.
What about violence on screen? Up until this point you haven't wanted characters to be killed in your films.
Well, actually, I am going to kill people in my next film: an old Swedish couple, but they are arms sellers and they will be killed by a grenade they make themselves. I have to kill them, I'm sorry (laughs).
You started to work in English when you made The Square and your next film will be shot entirely in English. Why have you gone in this direction?
It’s mainly to do with the actors. I started with Swedish actors, then I made Scandinavian films with Danish and Norwegian actors, and now I have decided to appeal to European and American actors. I suppose I’m aiming to compose a sort of Real Madrid-style team, a set of 11 actors of different nationalities. When casting my latest film, I travelled to Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, New York and Los Angeles in order to compose a fantastic ensemble cast. But the cast didn't get their roles just because they're well-known, I make everyone audition. If you want to bring together a colourful and exciting ensemble, you need to use English. Initially I was a little nervous about using English because I was afraid of losing nuance, but after working on The Square with Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West, I’ve realised it’s doable.
What do you think of the change in the distribution landscape and the rise of platforms?
I can't really say that it bothers me that much. I just saw Roma, which was available in theatres for a week in Sweden, and I still get the impression that Netflix sort of now owns Alfonso Cuarón's childhood (laughs). I really liked the film, although it's obvious that it was shot for the big screen. What I’m hoping – for platforms, in particular – is that directors don’t get lost in a sea of films, and films produced under the banner of platforms, in particular. I am also a little perplexed about algorithms, calculations and information on how users interact with platforms. We'll see what happens in the future, who knows... But we do need to revive European movie-theatre culture because one of the main problems we have nowadays is that younger generations need to know that cinemas exist. I think we have to work with cinemas and travel beyond big cities. All filmmakers supported by the Swedish Film Institute are obliged to go on a tour around ten small provincial towns, in order to help operators set up events. If audiences could relate to the person who made the film, I think they would be much more interested than going to a multiplex, buying popcorn and then leaving. If we did that in Sweden, where we’ve produced 43 films, that would amount to 430 events. We have to work very hard to rebuild film culture so that future generations understand that going to the cinema is an experience. The only reason cinemas are so important is because we watch all films together. If you take modern Swedish homes as an example, everyone watches their own platform and we don't get together to watch television anymore, except for the Eurovision Song Contest. But when you watch something together, you discuss it afterwards.
How are things going with The Triangle of Sadness?
We are starting to finalise the cast. I can’t reveal any names yet, but what I can say is that there are more American actors in it than Europeans. Filming will start next spring and will take 80 days. I always promise my producer and partner Erik Hemmendorff that filming will be modest, but I will inevitably end up adding a dozen additional days of filming. The Triangle of Sadness is set in the fashion world and stars two models, a man and a woman (reaching the twilight of their careers and forced to question their futures). It will kick off at Milan Fashion Week and will then continue on a luxury cruise ship, with a shoot probably in the Mediterranean, before ending on a desert island. We are currently looking for a location in the Caribbean or in Thailand.
(Translated from French)
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