Ruben Östlund: Interview

force majeure

One of the most distinctive voices in Swedish cinema spoke to us in Cannes where his drama Force Majeure (Turist) had a triumphal premiere at Un Certain Regard.

What was the starting point for your film?
RO: I wanted to study people’s behaviour when they go abroad on a skiing holiday, well off tourists dressed with neon skiing outfits and silver shiny glasses, used to controlling their way of life. I wanted to put them in a new context and explore their survival instinct, create a conflict –here the forces of nature, an avalanche- so that they would be faced with their own true nature. I had also read that in situations of emergency, survivors are often predominantly men, which means that in many cases, they run for their lives and forget about chivalry. So I started to build the plot around those ideas.

With Force Majeure you go back to your debut when you were making skiing films, and at the same time you explore a new and more sophisticated cinematic language. Was it thrilling to combine the two?
I feel very happy to have been able to use film as a personal expression and that none of my films have been considered a failure. I accomplish my work as well as I can and at the same time try to develop my artistic skills. I feel confident in what I believe and I’m not afraid to challenge people the way I challenge myself.

How was your first collaboration with cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel?
 Fredrik and I are totally different in our approaches. He is very intuitive, and adapts as he goes along whereas I want to know exactly how each frame will look like from the outset. We obviously had to make decisions and it’s this combination of our different ideas that created something very interesting at the end.

For the first time you worked much closer to the actors, filming them in a more intimate way, with less long shots…
 Yes I had a more distant approach to my characters before as my films were focused on group behaviour, they were more conceptual. Here, the intention of the film is to look inside the characters themselves. It’s about the characters’ ability to connect with their emotions, so naturally I had to get closer to the actors to see their reactions, not just their movements. In terms of work with the actors, I had to trust them and let them take responsibility over their role. Both Johannes [Bah Kuhnke] and Lisa [Loven Kongsli] did a terrific job, but it was hard for them as I let them go to the bottom of their emotions. It was very challenging.

Your film challenges the clichés that people have about manhood and about men and women’s expected behaviour. You obviously feel it’s time to break those clichés… 
RO: The reality is that in our western world, we’re not so connected to our emotions. Hopefully we’ll be better and with feministic debates going on in Scandinavia about the gender issue we will be more aware of certain clichés and about men or women‘s place in society.

Isn’t the film ultimately about trust, ie trust between the husband and wife, and trust of the two children in their parents’ ability to save their marriage and save them from the dangers of nature?
 Definitely. Trust but also mutual expectations within the family. I’ve always been very interested in the concept of today’s nuclear family and the way western people live their lives. If you go back in history, people in the early 1900s were living in large families. After the industrial revolution they had to move to the cities and sell their houses to live in small flats. People were more careful with birth control and progressively the concept of the nuclear family was born. But within the nuclear family, each individual has a very specific role, and the family’s backbone is much more fragile. If some relationships do not work, then it can collapse very easily, whereas in larger families, there was not that pressure on each individual.

What’s next for you? What new role play and human behaviour are you going to explore?
Monkeys is what I am going to explore! In Force Majeure, Thomas is afraid of his survival instinct. He hides it and hides his needs. My idea is to look at monkeys as mirrors of ourselves, and to see how we would act if we had no more restrains. It should be a very liberating experience! I will ask 12 actors to play monkeys, naked for 3 hours. That will give a totally new perception of nudity! The project is in early stages of development.

Written by Annika Pham

via the Nordisk Film and TV Fond

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.