A Little Something on Ruben Östlund

Palme d’Or winning director of ‘The Square’

I saw two of Ruben Östlund’s films, namely, ‘The Square’ and ‘Turist’ in the course of the last month and his work quickly put me in awe of him.

Östlund’s writing and its peculiarity makes sure it has your attention and then it begins to mess with you. He uses fixed, steady camera movements. This approach helps you invest in the characters and lets you have a cinematic experience without any technical distractions.

What really amused me about this resolute cinematography is the way it captures subtlety in a rather unsubtle way. There’s a scene in ‘The Square’ where a lady is taking the interview of an artist at a museum of contemporary art. All of a sudden a man from the audience, not in the frame, begins bad mouthing this lady. This happens for quite some time leading to much discomfort in the room. Surprisingly, completely ignoring the surroundings and the furious reactions of the people in the room Östlund chooses the keep the camera on the lady taking the interview. This is where the subtle expression of discomfort is put forth to us in an unsubtle manner. She ignores the words that are coming her way and gets on with the interview. As a viewer you are forced to see what Östlund wants to show you. In all that effort that the lady puts in to ignore the man we now see her being uncomfortable. Her attention breaks, she shifts uneasily in her seat, and the questions that she asks seem to be out of context to one another. Here, if Östlund had chosen to put more elements from the room we would have missed the lady’s predicament, hence losing the idea behind the scene completely.

‘The Square is a poignant satirical drama reflecting our sense of community and moral courage in an increasingly uncertain world’

Having gone through the plot if you think about the scene and it’s depiction once again, you would realise how, by eliminating unnecessary elements, Östlund gave you just what he wanted to.

He doesn’t steer away from his belief of truthful storytelling. He tells stories that could be a part of anyone’s life and hence thrives on your association with the characters. Here’s an excerpt from an interview of his which justifies this, “I had to say to WME, my agents who are sending me scripts: ‘I don’t want to kill anyone in my films. I have never seen anything killed in my life; why would I produce those images when people are getting killed all the time?’ So few filmmakers in my business can say they have never killed in their films. It’s a cheap way to create a dramatic moment.”

Expressing reality in film has always been a task for indie filmmakers. There’s a fear of natural conversation leading to a place where you find your audience yawning away. So how do you keep your audiences engaged and the story crisp while also keeping it real and natural and subtle and organic? Well, you won’t get any answers from me on that one. But, there’s one filmmaker whose peculiar sense of subtlety has somehow achieved all of it.

“Something was boring in the film,” he said. “It wasn’t wild enough. I came up with an idea: What if Anne has a monkey at home? One hour in, suddenly comes a monkey into the apartment and sits down. Anything can happen from that. You are opening up the movie for the audience, they’re insecure, you get them on their toes again, you play with them. You don’t know what I’m going to do with you!”

Trust me, let him play with you.

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