ruben östlund – beautiful on the outside, scary on the inside
Ruben Östlund takes his time both in terms of releasing a new project and the pace of his movies. And it’s paying off. Force Majeure allowed him to reach broad international audience, The Square won Palme d’Or and is an Oscar nominee. Is the Swedish director worth all this attention?
FORCE MAJEURE - LAUNCH AN AVALANCHE
I kept postponing watching Östlund’s movies. In 2011 I heard about Play. Still about to see it. Since 2014 Force Majeure was coming back to me from time to time, both on Internet and in life. Couldn’t find it anywhere. In June 2017 everyone started to talk about The Square and I became determined enough. Whenever and whatever this Swedish director was doing, he gained publicity, which grown with every other FILM. So yes, I’m late, but I’m finally catching up.
In Force Majeure we see the upper middle class family (this is a very Scandinavian social construct for me with no research behind this term), which on the outside it’s extremely happy and beautiful, on the inside it’s a bit scary and fucked up. A family consisting a Swede Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Norwegian Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children, Harry and Vera, spend few weeks on a skiing trip in the Alps. They are not much talkative, yet they do things together, even sleep in one bed. Their hotel is beautiful, modern, peaceful. The only thing disturbing the tranquillity are avalanches, caused and controlled by the staff during the night. One day the family is eating lunch on the porch and a mass of snow starts to come down towards them. At first the guests were astonished, then they realized that the avalanche is controlled only by the nature. The panic started, people ran inside the hotel. No one gets hurt, just the snow fog covered the porch for couple of minutes. The mist cleared and Ebba noticed that Tomas disappeared, leaving her with the kids.
For Ebba it was incomprehensible that Tomas abandoned them. When she tried to talk about this situation, he refused to admit that he ran away in the first place. Because he, as a man, the patron of the family, could never do such a thing. As Ebba and Tomas share the room with their kids (and you cannot argue in front of your kids), they almost have no space for the conversation. So the subject comes up when they mingle. When a stranger couple observes another one during emotional argument that turns ugly, what can be done? Mats (Kristofer Hivju) tries to provide an improvised marriage counselling session and it’s one of the best scenes in the movie. I’m not sure if I felt more of embarrassment or astonishment.
I was bothered by the uneven pace of the movie – intense, long conversations were shredded with peaceful, muted landscapes. Those shifts were sometimes confusing as the moods changed so quickly. Östlund was constantly building up the tension and in the end we receive no closure, there is no climax. I have to praise him for using the great metaphor of avalanche for Tomas and Ebba’s perfect and stable marriage. Yes, they had avalanches before, but they were controlled, happening during the night, needed like draining out the blood, afterwards the previous balance was back. Not this time. Now they had to face a wild avalanche, which forced them to confront each other in extreme conditions. Maybe the rainbow didn’t come after storm, but after avalanche, like after all natural phenomena, new balance was created. Maybe Östlund took up a cliché issue, but his approach was not naïve. After all, he doesn’t show us the guilty one, no one apologies. In The Square he works again on a social process that most of us is aware of, but this time he has very firm thesis for us.
THE SQUARE - HUMAN TRASH
The Square evolves around Christian (Claes Bing), a director of an Art Museum, opened at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. He was currently preparing a new exhibition, which focused on the concept of social contract. The main exhibit was going to be a square, a symbolic place where we should be reminded of our role as fellow human beings and raise awareness of humanistic topics and values. First, in contrast to this message Christian got robbed. Then, all the action undertaken by him afterwards, fulfil it. His wallet and phone were stolen and thanks the GPS system, he managed to locate the presumable thief. He or she appeared to live in the dangerous suburbs, in a block of flats with hundreds of people. Christian decided to put a threatening note into each mailbox. He was so overwhelmed with this situation, that he became sloppy at work and make hasty decisions.
Again we see this perfect, elegant, handsome human being, loosing his balance. Everything he did after the robbery was against his moral code or even more – the social code. It’s not just about anonymously threatening people, it’s about going to the dangerous suburbs, dealing with those people normally avoided, talking with them is derogative. Of course, he would never say it out loud. We are all equal, especially in Scandinavia, right? No one from Christian's social class would say it. Beautiful outside, not just with fancy cars and elegant flats, but also nice to each other, educated, smiling. Despising inside, as Christian is cringing every time he has to cross the border between his world and the other’s.
The Square has a simple analysis of our society: good people are excluded from it (i.e. beggars, immigrants), one class thinks better of itself than it really is (i.e. by declaring that there is a full confidence in people while everyday life shows the opposite). Movies, art in general, should be pointing out all problems, even those obvious ones. However, Force Majeure depicted a cliché without any answers or conclusions about it. In The Square Östlund from the beginning presents his thoughts: he shows our sad, depressed society, full of career focused individuals with clear indication how wrong is it. Force Majeure kept the tension throughout the whole movie, disappointing me at the end. The Square let me down with the clarity of its message with no twist to it, but stole my heart with few amazing, unexpected scenes. Like the one with gorilla man. This should get prize of some sort by itself.