Spoiler Interview: Ruben Östlund on ‘Force Majeure’


Force Majeure Electric Toothbrush


Because this [mimes brushing teeth manually] was really hard. I’m so glad we stopped that.

[Laughs.] Yeah.

What did you tell him about his character, that janitor character? Or did you want him to be as blank as possible?

He’s actually, he’s working at a pizzeria quite close to where I live in [Sweden]. So I just fell in love with his face. I think he has a fantastic expression. 

How does that conversation go. You’re a pizzeria just staring at him, and he goes, “What?!”

No, but I was walking up to him, like, “Do you want try a part in the film I’m about to shoot?” And he’s like, “Yeah, sure.” But it was so interesting the first day. We were spending the period when he was shooting with us, he was there for one week in a Five-Star luxury hotel in a ski resort in Northern Sweden and there was no one else in the hotel. We had it for ourselves for like breakfast, dinner and evening. It was really nice shooting conditions. And he was like, “This is the most absurd thing I’ve ever done in my life. The director’s taking 40 takes on every scene, and I’m supposed to do this 40 times over? Are you kidding me? Are you having this as your work? How can you punish yourself in that way?” 

He couldn’t understand it all. From day one he was just waiting to go home to his restaurant and work there. I think it was so interesting. He thought that the film shooting environment and world was as absurd as I was trying [make] the ski resort [appear].

It is a little absurd, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is.

You have to convince someone of a lie every five minutes in order to get them to do their job. Are you a 40-take director? It’s never just run-and-gun with you?

No, I do a lot of takes. Maximum on this shooting, we had two camera positions, so the camera is on the tripod and one fixed camera angle most of the time, and then we just repeat over and over and over again. Because it’s a way of also, as soon as you’ve witnessed something and you are seeing it in front of you, you have to re-evaluate how to deal with it.

So a lot of those takes are just for you?

Also for the actors, so they can test things. So they can be brave and do things that they wouldn’t do if they only had two takes. So then I can say, “Well, keep that and take that away, wow! Now we’ve found something really interesting.” So at the end of the day, the last five takes are often very, very similar. It’s hard to see any different from it because we have sculptured something and found the most efficient way to tell that scene.


Force Majeure Mountain


It sounds like you’re after something very ephemeral with your actors and yet the visual construction of the film seems very precise.


Is that all the same for you, or do you look at cinematography differently than you look at directing an actor, for example?

Well, no. I mean, I work with cinematography almost the same. I don’t like, go to set and don’t know exactly what the image should look like. Often we know how we want to start, at least, and then we see it we say, “No, we’ve got to change some things,” or we’re going to get a little bit closer, move it back a little bit. Like that. In the same way we are sculpting the acting we are sculpting the image. We are putting a little bit of reflection in the window, a little bit more to the left. A little bit more practical. It’s very practical. We move this chair a little bit more, we need something in this part of the image to make a nice composition.