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Film

The modern movie Ruben Östlund calls "image porn"

@Russellisation

For the Swedish filmmaking maestro Ruben Östlund, there is no subject more interesting in cinema than the study of the human mind, with the director eternally interested in probing the careful layers of the human psyche and the expectations of modern society. 

Consistently focusing on fragile, lost characters on the brink of a personal meltdown, the cinema of Östlund squirms with 21st-century angst. This is self-evident throughout his filmography, centring on several characters that represent a cross-section of Swedish society in his early films, 2004s Gitarrmongot and 2008s Involuntary before moving on to a tighter cast in his later career.  

Throughout each of his films, however, Östlund pinpoints how an individual’s personality and morality can be questioned by outside influences, such as how the pride of the protagonist is pulled into focus in 2014s Force Majeure or how 2011s Play sees characters moulded by the very actions of their peers.

As the Swedish writer and director told The Guardian back in 2018, “All my films are about people trying to avoid losing face,” with the Palme d’Or winning satire of the art world, The Square, proving this beyond doubt. Part of a select elite of filmmakers who have won the prestigious Cannes award on two occasions, Östlund is the most recipient of the honour, taking home the trophy in 2022 for his film Triangle of Sadness.

Cannes 2022: Ruben Östlund wins Palme d’Or for ‘Triangle of Sadness’

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Coming to the film industry from something of a sideways angle, Östlund started his career making skiing movies only to become a modern master of the craft, inspired by the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Luis Buñuel and Stanley Kubrick. The director comments on his lack of formal film education in his conversation with Criterion where he discusses ten of his favourite films of all time. 

Including such films as Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Jacques Tati’s PlayTime and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, one of Östlund’s most interesting choices was the modern classic The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino. 

Written by Umberto Contarello, the 2013 drama tells the story of Jep Gambardella, a man who has seduced his way through the nightlife of Rome for decades, only to swap out the parties and embrace the great beauty of exquisite art after his 65th birthday. Finding Sorrentino international acclaim, the Italian filmmaker has gone on to helm Youth with Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz, as well as the recent Netflix hit Hand of God.

“This film has a certain kind of dynamic and rhythm that’s unique to Paolo Sorrentino as a director,” the Triangle of Sadness director told Criterion, adding, “It’s constantly a sensation, and there are some images in the film that I will never forget—for example, the facial expression of a nun when she’s climbing up the stairs”. 

Known for their striking cinematography, the films of Paolo Sorrentino have long struck a chord with international audiences, with Östlund concluding his thoughts by adding, “It’s really, really beautiful. It’s image porn when it comes to Rome, a city that I don’t like to be in that much but that I like to look at in films”. 

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