Magazine article Screen International

'The Square' Set Visit and Ruben Ostlund Interview

Magazine article Screen International

'The Square' Set Visit and Ruben Ostlund Interview

Article excerpt

It was the memory of his father's boyhood stories that helped to spark the ideas behind Ruben Ostlund's new film The Square. "When he was six years old, he would be sent out in the street in Stockholm to play and his mom would put a tag on him with his name and address," Ostlund recalls. "You would trust in these other adults to take care of your child if anything happened. That's a huge attitude shiftin how we look at the public now. There is a paranoia."

Ostlund's producer Erik Hemmendorff, with whom he founded Plattform Produktion in 2002, says the pair began to explore these ideas about trust and responsibility with Ostlund's 2011 feature Play.

"The idea that adults were there to help you - that's not there any more," Hemmendorffsuggests. "This is something we confronted when we were making Play. Ruben interviewed these young kids who meet each other in public spaces, and there were so seldom any grownups intervening."

The Square is not about children, but very much about modern society. "The foreign way of looking [in] at Scandinavia is [that it is] this social democracy, an idyllic society," Ostlund explains. "But there is a change going on here and I was interested in that."

Ostlund's last three features have increasingly identified him as one of the most talented and provocative auteurs in cinema today. Ahead of its premiere in Competition at Cannes, The Square has already racked up impressive sales for Ostlund's longtime sales partner, Philippe Bober's Coproduction Office. Deals done prior to Cannes include to the US (Magnolia), UK (Curzon Artificial Eye), France (BAC), Germany (Alamode), Czech Republic/Slovakia (Film Europe), Hungary (Cirko) and Switzerland (Xenix).

The Square's main plot is about an art museum dealing with the fallout from a controversial viral video to promote an exhibit called 'The Square'.

"I needed a place for the film to verbalise the topic and that became the art world," Ostlund explains. "It's an attractive environment, it's like taking an existential question to a ski resort," he says with a smile, referencing his last feature, Force Majeure.

The project began three years ago as an actual art installation, a white marked box in a public space into which anyone could step if they needed help or sanctuary. Working with Swedish film producer Kalle Boman, Ostlund wanted a platform with which to tackle big ideas with public participation. "'The Square' is where we have this big trust in the State and take care of each other," Ostlund says of the altruistic ambitions of the white marked box. "[It is] a sanctuary of trust and caring, within its boundaries we all share equal rights and obligations. It is about some of the most important questions of our time."

The installation, initially designed to be temporary, was instead created as a permanent piece of work in Varnamo in southern Sweden in early 2015. New versions of 'The Square' are planned for Grimstad, Norway, and then in Gothenburg and Stockholm in Sweden.

The film explores how audiences and the media respond to the artwork. It has a satirical slant, especially in its portrayal of the media, which "goes straight into the trap" set by the museum and its PR agency: they suspect the press will not care about the exhibit unless they have something provocative to write about.

"I really think we're [living] in a media circus," says Ostlund of the way in which news is disseminated and consumed today. "If you're a politician, people have to know you exist - for that to happen you need to have controversy. …

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