BAFTA-nominated, Palme d’Or-winning Swedish filmmaker and screenwriter Ruben Östlund has directed a dozen films over the length of his remarkable filmic career, a unique journey which began in the early 1990s with a trio of skiing films – Addicted, Free Radicals and Free Radicals 2 – on the basis of which the young film-enthusiast was accepted to study at the film school in University of Gothenburg. At the university, the director met long-time industry partner, film producer Erik Hemmendorff, with whom Östlund co-founded the production company, Plattform Produktion, which has produced the majority of Östlund’s socially-probing, enduringly shrewd and deeply poignant works.
In the early 2000s, Östlund began his directorial career after completing his studies and gaining strong experience in skiing film, the background with which he was able to release two documentaries, Let the Others Deal with Love (2001) and the following year, Family Again, before moving on to direct his inaugural feature-length fictional drama, The Guitar Mongoloid (2004), a striking social drama following the lives of a variety of individuals living in the fictional city Jöteborg – notably similar to real-life Swedish hub, Göteborg – who choose to ignore societal and cultural norms. In the film, Östlund takes the unconventional step of working with a predominantly non-actor cast who – despite the fact that the film doesn’t fall into the documentary form – essentially play themselves; an insightful narrative which garnered Östlund the FIPRESCI Prize at the 27th Moscow International Film Festival.
Subsequently, he returned to the short film format in two films: first, the 2005 film Autobiographical Scene Number 6882, a 9-minute long drama portraying the dynamics between a group of friends who all watch as one of them chooses to jump off a bridge, winning Östlund the European Short Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, as well as his 3-minute long project, Nattbad (2006). In 2008, Östlund offered his cult following and international audiences alike Involuntary (2008), a tragi-comedy presenting five parallel vignettes all either partially or wholly inspired by Östlund and Hemmendorff’s (with whom he co-wrote the script) own experiences. Manifestly, the film exists as a continuation of his exploration of human behaviour, as well as an ode to Östlund’s experience as a skiing director; it was filmed using long, lingering shots which do away with cuts within the scenes – the longest scene lasts for seven minutes.
Released to widespread positive recognition and a hit on the film festival circuit – garnering several awards including the Golden Iris at the Brussels European Film Festival – the drama adopts a subtly and sensitively in its affecting illumination of the consequences of both taking action and a lack of it. The director’s temporary shift to the comedy genre is shown in Incident by a Bank (2009), a short action drama which utilises the classic plot device of an attempted bank robbery to offer a witty and innovative take on the subject. The sketch illustrating the thought processes of the baffled witnesses of the robbery, the filmographer and the producer, won the prestigious Golden Berlin Bear at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and the Grand Prix at Finland’s Tampere Film Festival in 2011.
Östlund’s most recent strings of films is often considered his strongest, in that he starkly intensifies his socially conscious lens on modern life by offering portrayals of the harrowing psychological consequences and profound emotional conflicts imbued in both individual and collective contemporary experience. This is deeply evident in his 2011 drama, Play, a jarring illumination on youth-on-youth psychological violence in Gothenburg with a dramatization of bullying in the real-life case of a group of preteen boys who robbed other children many dozens of times between 2006 and 2008, winning Östlund two awards at the Cannes Film Festival – the Séance “Coup de coeur” and the C.I.C.A.E. Award. This visually exquisite and artistically deft project was followed by his Golden Globe and BAFTA-nominated, explosively successful comedy drama, Force Majeure (2014), a portrayal of the experiences of a family on holiday in the French Alps who find themselves involved in a catastrophic avalanche.
Aptly dubbed “a disaster film without a disaster”, Östlund shifts his proclivity for examinations of social dynamics to the sphere of the family in the film’s portrayal of the marital strife which unravels following the avalanche – a witty, nuanced narrative which earned an overwhelming string of international awards and nominations, including the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Östlund’s latest production released earlier this year, the Palme d’Or-winning, The Square (2017), partially inspired by some of his personal experiences and his art installation with Swedish helmer Kalle Boman, takes the comedic tone of his previous film while adding a satirical twist as well as the socially conscious subject matter but expanding it onto a larger scale, in a bittersweet drama exploring the moral disposition, predominance of egocentricity and sense of community which exists in modern society.
The helmer has recently announced his plan to direct a forthcoming project, Triangle of Sadness, a satirical tale following two highly successful fashion models – a balding male model and a lesbian resentful of the sexual advancements of rich men – who are reaching the end of their peak years in the industry and are looking for a way to leave the industry. Again, Östlund demonstrates his creative prowess by adopting another distinctive lens by which to examine the nature of human dynamics, this time in the form of the complexities of sexual and gender norms. If his past work is any guarantee, Östlund is sure to teach audiences lessons about the nature of the social relations in their own lives, of which they themselves were not even aware.