Tag Archives: Ruben Ostlund

Social Distortion

The Square

by George Wolf

Ruben Ostlund is a filmmaker fascinated with social contracts. He dissects them with a precision that can be both insightful and comedic. And now with The Square, he displays an equally deft handling of the absurd.

In 2014’s Force Majeure, Ostlund brilliantly exposed the folly of mixing societal assumptions and righteous intentions. This time out, his eye is trained on the growing distance between the classes and the social quandaries of privileged egocentricities.

Christian (Claes Bang) is curator at an art museum in Sweden, making preparations for the debut of a new exhibition called The Square. Once unveiled, it promises a “sanctuary of trust and caring,” where all will enjoy equal rights.

As Christian and his team ponder various marketing plans for the new venture, Christian’s phone and wallet are stolen, he must fight Anne (Elizabeth Moss) for possession of a used condom, a monkey puts on makeup in a lavish hotel suite, an aggrieved young boy makes good on a promise to fill Christian’s life with chaos, and two men race to right a wrong in a vehicle they giddily dub the “Tesla of Justice.”

Regardless of whether you’re able to make sense of it all, Ostlund continues to bring visionary scope to his writing and direction. Nearly every frame becomes a lavishly fascinating microscope, probing deep into the inner impulses and outward pressures that are constantly forming our actions and reactions.

The humor is dark and droll, often awkward and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but The Square (winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes) is also alternatively weird and occasionally freakish. Scenes are filled with subtle subtexts, shifting tones and burgeoning ideas, but through it all, Ostlund weaves a persistent, telling theme.

Character after character is seen, through different forms and varying levels of desperation, asking for help. As society is not quite the sanctuary of trust and caring offered by the new exhibit, Ostlund digs into both the motivations for, and reactions to, these pleas, always relishing the chance to open wounds and twist knives.

The Square is more evidence that Ostlund is a challenging, ambitious filmmaker whose work demands attention. It’s a visceral, thoroughly rewarding experience.




Brilliant Disguise

Force Majeure

by George Wolf

“Well If I would have been there I would’ve…”

You’ve heard it, and said it, so many times that the meaning is often lost. Force Majeure (Turist) studies the phrase like a social experiment, and brilliantly exposes the folly in convincing ourselves of our own righteous intentions.

Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children are enjoying a ski holiday in the French Alps. Things are fine until they take lunch on an outside patio. Suddenly, an avalanche strike seems imminent, and the danger elicits very different reactions from husband and wife. Though the scare becomes a false alarm and everyone chuckles at their fear, the family dynamic has been rocked to the core.

Writer/director Ruben Ostlund pulls a terrific cinematic sleight of hand, employing a pleasant aesthetic while he cooly rips away at a host of societal assumptions. As Tomas and Ebba drop the pretense and begin to bluntly confront each other about what happened, Ostlund raises hefty questions about gender, class, and relationships.

Bruce Springsteen once sang, “God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of,” and Force Majeure, a Critics Choice Award winner and Golden Globe nominee for best foreign language film of 2014, illustrates the waves that can stir from just a few ripples of such doubt.

When Tomas and Ebba reveal their situation to another couple, the male friend is clearly thrown off balance, and not just for Tomas and Ebba. He transfers their predicament into his own relationship, keeping his girlfriend awake for hours of discussion until he can again feel confident in his own skin. It is a clever way to mirror the audience’s inevitable projection of themselves into the situation.

With all the internal conflict, it’s also worth noting that the film looks great, and it’s clear Ostlund’s mountainous setting was no accident. On the ski slopes, there can be plenty of rough spots among the beautiful terrain, and this backdrop remains a nicely subtle parallel to marriage itself.

Much like the conversations you may have after the film, Force Majeure can be uncomfortable in the way it shines a light on aspects of ourselves often kept under wraps. But Ostlund ultimately leaves any judgements up to us, along with the urge to question any we might make too quickly.