Magazine article Screen International

Ruben Ostlund, Force Majeure

Magazine article Screen International

Ruben Ostlund, Force Majeure

Article excerpt

Ruben Ostlund, the Swedish director of Force Majeure, tells Tiffany Pritchard about his lengthy casting process, the Titanic myth and his love of YouTube.

Swedish director Ruben Ostlund is a film-maker who is not afraid of conflict, especially with his fourth feature, Force Majeure. His biggest production to date -- with a budget of about $5m ([euro]4m) and with distribution deals in more than 50 territories -- is sparking debate worldwide around gender responsibilities and expectations.

Inspired by a YouTube clip showing a family at a ski resort when a controlled avalanche strikes, the film-maker puts a spin on the narrative by having the father abandon his role as the archetypal protector.

"Since society, and Hollywood, still cater to the man as the action hero, the one who fights violence when the family is in trouble, it's interesting to explore survival instinct, and the idea that your partner may not act as you want them to," says Ostlund.

In his research, the director found sociological studies that revealed couples who survive hijackings frequently divorce; and that survivors from the Costa Concordia and other boating disasters are often male passengers and crew who leave the women and children in efforts to fend for themselves.

'When we were auditioning, I told the men they had to go deep, and to be comfortable in playing a pathetic character'Ruben Ostlund

"Titanic is a myth. When faced with stressful situations, people can do stupid things. In this case, the avalanche plays out the daily struggles we have in life and in relationships, disrupting the notion of the perfect nuclear family," he says.

Casting played an important role for the film: it took Ostlund a year to find Lisa Loven Kongsli (who plays mother Ebba) and Johannes Kuhnke (father Tomas). During both auditions and rehearsals, the actors were pushed in efforts to attain their most authentic take on Sweden's ideal couple.

"I want the actors to let me know if the dialogue doesn't feel right, so we work closely together in fine-tuning the script. For me, it's important that lines don't feel forced, and that it's conversation that flowsnaturally, so I'm always amending the script throughout casting and production," Ostlund says.

Tomas's awkward crying scene has created a stir among film executives and audiences, with early test screenings in France indicating that some audience members wanted the scene to be omitted. But for Ostlund, a disquieting moment like this gives his films their signature mark.

A self-confessed YouTube fanatic, the director Googled 'worst man cry ever' to find inspiration. "When we were auditioning, I told the men they had to go deep, and to be comfortable in playing a pathetic character."

Pep talks

The film-maker often demands 40 takes per angle in a scene. Motivational phrases such as 'You can do it' and 'Don't give up' are used to encourage the actors near the end of the shooting day, the time when Ostlund feels he extracts the best performances.

But even for Ostlund, it was not easy to watch a man in tears. "We're not used to seeing a male character like this. It was really tricky to shoot. We spent a lot of time in rehearsals. I told Johannes, 'Don't control the force in your body, just let it out.' And he did, he just went for it."

His shooting schedule was also dictated by his preference to film with a single camera in order to enforce intricate composition and framing. …

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