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“Bored with Hollywood stories”

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Ruben Östlund • Director

by Annika Pham

30/10/2008 - Ruben Östlund is hailed as the figurehead of new avant-garde Swedish cinema, from his Göteborg base, far from Stockholm’s film establishment

Ruben  Östlund  • Director

Ruben Östlund’s novel approach to filmmaking was first tested on his amateur skiing films. A year after graduating from the school of directing at Göteborg University in 2001, he set up his own production company Plattform Production with fellow film graduate Erik Hemmendorff. His first feature, The Guitar Mongoloid, won the FIPRESCI Award in Moscow in 2005 and his short film Autobiographical Scene Number: 6882 the UIP Award in Edinburgh. Cineuropa met Östlund in Cannes last May, where his second feature film Involuntary [+see also:
film review
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]
screened in Un Certain Regard.

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Cineuropa : What was the inspiration for the five stories in Involuntary?
Ruben Östlund: I decided first that the theme should be about group behaviour. I tried to write down situations that I or my friends had experienced in our everyday life. The reunion weekend between the 30-year-old men is something that happened to one of my friends. The story about the teacher is based on my mother who had that experience. I’m not interested in film references to create films based on other films.

How long did you work on the script, if there was a script?
Yes of course there was a script. I write all the time. Erik Hemmendorff (my partner at Plattform Produktion) and I started to write the scenes in the fall of 2004 and to shoot in summer 2006.

What were the difficulties in constructing a vignette movie?
It took time to choose which stories we wanted to use. I wanted to show group behaviour from different perspectives. There is a 60-year-old man in one story, a 13-year-old girl in another, a 30 year-old man in another and so on. I also wanted to develop the ideas during shooting itself. We had also made a short film with the same theme, so it wasn’t only two years of scriptwriting.

Did you feel this structure was offering you more freedom to explore your main theme than just one linear story?
I have always been quite bored with Anglo-Saxon dramaturgy and Hollywood stories where you have to construct a lot of scenes to make a full-length film. You develop a lot of scenes around one idea that should perhaps just be very short. Today, films like these, built on film references, don’t say much about people’s existence. Cinema has created an artificial universe with names like Brad Pitt, etc. But things are changing. We use motion pictures in ways that have never been done before. Today, anybody can shoot a movie with a mobile phone and you can see it in a cinema or on You Tube. There is a fantastic clip called Battle at Kruger on YouTube. It’s a battle between buffalos and lions, very dramatic and interesting. It has 28 million hits.
What strikes me in a movie are certain scenes, I’m not often swept away by a full-length feature and its dramatic structure.

In your film, you seem to want to keep the audience on edge, by filming actors from a distance, showing only half their faces or only their shoes…
I want to make the audience active and reflective. Again, in Hollywood movies you are very secure as an audience. You know who you should feel sympathy for, who will fall in love with whom, etc. It’s all formatted. I want to get away from this and make the audience take a moral stand on its own.

How do you work with actors? Are most of them in Involuntary non-professionals?
Maria Lundqvist is a very established actress. We found the others through traditional casting. The way I work is that I have an idea for a scene, then I do long improvisations with the actors, re-write the scene and then shoot it. Sometimes, if an actor comes up with great lines, we adapt the scene based on his lines. That’s the way they work in theatre. For me, new ideas come up during the shooting, during editing, and I stay open to it all.

What is your philosophy at Plattform?
Platform was set up because Erik and I felt that nobody else wanted to produce the films we were interested in making. We set high goals from the beginning. Our films are kind of avant-garde, but we want them to be shown at big festivals and distributed worldwide. We make feature films, documentaries, using all filming techniques. For instance, we produced Patrik Eriksson’s first feature film An Extraordinary Study in Human Degradation, shot entirely on mobile phone cameras. We’re also producing a documentary by Axel Danielsson called Twin Brothers, about his twin nephews. He has been filming them since they were three, until they turn 18 (next year). It will be a fantastic film.

What is your next project?
I have a project which hopefully will start shooting next summer. I want to adapt each film to a new theme, a new idea.

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