"I discovered cinema quite late in my life," points out Ruben Östlund. Born on the island of Styrsö in Sweden, he found seasonal work at ski resorts in the Alps in his teenage years, where he first picked up a camera. "That's how I got into filming. I was making ski films in this ski resort of freeskiing and powder skiing and blah, blah, blah."
Östlund made his feature debut with 2004's The Guitar Mongoloid, but he found international acclaim with 2014's Force Majeure, a black comedy set at a luxury ski resort in the Alps. Force Majeure debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. Östlund's next film, the 2017 art world satire The Square, also competed at Cannes and won the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or.
His latest is Triangle of Sadness, a social satire about the uber-rich guests aboard a luxury cruise. When the ship goes down and its passengers and crew members are stranded on a desert island, the social hierarchy is undone. When Triangle of Sadness premiered at Cannes this year, it won Östlund his second consecutive Palme d'Or. ("Someone told me one day, 'The first Palme d'or can be an accident, but the second really means something," he said.) Quite the feat for someone who originally just wanted to film his friends skiing.
"When I was 25, I connected with cinema history for the first time. Of course, I'd seen some examples before, but that's when I got interested," he says. "Slowly, I become a cineaste. Slowly, I started to pay respect for my colleagues' work and started to understand the skill that they had. But it came late for me, so I'm still discovering great films."
Below, Östlund shares with A.frame the work of five filmmakers who have most inspired him.
Directed by: Miloš Forman | Written by: Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
You can feel Miloš Forman's humanism through everything that he's making. I admire the way that he portrayed the characters in this film with such a warm heart. If you look at the action taking place in the film, I mean, Jack Nicholson's character is bringing prostitutes to this place, and it would be questioned in so many ways in our times, but it deals with us human beings in a very generous, forgiving, and loving way, even with the errors and the mistakes that we make. He manages to make this ensemble of people in this hospital so rich, and so alive.
It's just a fantastic experience to be on that journey in that film. You can also tell that Miloš Forman comes from an ex-Communistic dictatorship, because his films are so much about the individual that breaks out and becomes free. In the end, the Indian throws the sink through the window and runs out free in nature. All of Miloš Forman's films are basically about someone that is behaving in an unexpected way, but is free to do it. They don't let themselves be pushed down by expectation, about the state, about conventions, and so on. He's a beautiful filmmaker.
Directed and written by: Michael Haneke
You can tell that Michael Haneke comes from Austria in the same way you can tell that Miloš Forman came from the Czech Republic. Michael Haneke, I love because of the suspense in his movies. Even though he doesn't have a traditional dramaturgy or narrative, there's always such a suspense. As an audience, when I'm watching it, I'm on my toes all the time. You say that Hitchcock is the master of suspense, but for me, Michael Haneke is the master of suspense. And you can tell that he has such a great overview of everything that is going on in the film and in every single scene, so you pay attention to whatever is happening.
There's a specific scene in that film when Juliette Binoche is harassed by two young men on the Metro through in Paris. The shot is maybe eight to nine minutes long, or something like that, and he really managed to create the kind of unpleasant feeling of being on public transportation when you don't know who will take command, who will help you. Are you left alone? He managed to tell about how vulnerable you are in this situation in a fantastic way in that scene. So for me, he's such a skillful director, like very, very precise. I also think just as Milos Forman, he's a great humanist. He dares to look at us when we fail and dares to look at actions that maybe are harsh, but he doesn't put it in a pink package. He dares to look at us as how we are.
Directed and written by: Roy Andersson
Roy Andersson is a Swedish director who was working with tableaus, where he was building everything in a studio — the most amazing studio sets that I know of in film history. He works with trompe-l'œil, which is basically tricking us with the perspective of the things that he is building in studio. Each one of these scenes, they are always single-take shots, with a fixed camera, and they work on the set for maybe a month or so before they shoot the scene, really carefully painting everything in a certain color scale and so on. So, the craft of Roy Andersson is extraordinary.
Then he also has a very trivial humor. He builds this absurd sets, and the scene is actually be about someone looking out over the city when the sun is going down, and you hear the couple in the background like, "What are you doing?" "I'm standing here." "Are you not thinking?" "Yeah, sure. I was thinking." "What did you think about?" "I don't remember now when you're asking." "Did you think about me?" "No." The triviality, in contrast to these absurdly well-built sets, it's fantastic.
Directed and written by: Leos Carax
Leos Carax, for me, is visually, the most strong director that we have in contemporary times. He is also very wild and unexpected in a way that I think is very inspiring. Holy Motors is an actor, Denis Lavant, that is playing 11 different roles, basically stepping in and out of different characters, and he does it in a very beautiful way. He's playing a motion capture artist in one of the scenes. In another one, he plays the father of a teenage daughter. It's a tribute to the art of acting, and it's a tribute to the visual language of cinema. There are things in that film that I will never forget, because they are back in my brain somewhere.
Directed and written by: Kelly Reichardt
First Cow was how I got to know about Kelly Reichardt. I got a little bit provoked when they started to talk about her work as slow cinema, because I also think she is very suspenseful. There's not a single second that is not alive to me. I think that the way that she portrays the action that is going on in First Cow — these young men, where one of them knows how to make muffins and how they start to steal milk — what a different portrayal of the U.S. from the wild west cliché! It's just so well directed, and so alive. I'm just impressed.