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Ruben Östlund names his 10 favourite films of all time

Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund has made some of the most exciting and unique films of the last decade, ranging from the 2014 comedy-drama Force Majeure to the surreal masterpiece that is his 2017 project The Square which ended up winning the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes. Currently, he is working on a brand new film called Triangle of Sadness which is about the fashion industry and is set to come out next year.

In an interview, Östlund explained: “I always have a very clear set-up in all of my scenes. I always ask the actor to relate to that set-up as a human being, not as a character. If you relate to it as a human being, then you can use your own experience to imagine what can lead the character to do those things — even if the character is doing really stupid things. If the set-up is right, you can tell yourself, ‘Oh, I actually could do that, too, if I was in this situation.’ That’s what I’m aiming for all the time”.

He also explained his intentions with The Square: “I wanted to make a tragi-comedy, or a comic tragedy, where at a certain point, you don’t know if you’re allowed to laugh anymore. It’s really nice when the viewers can’t be 100% sure where we take them. They have to accept that they don’t know, and we take them to unexpected places. Just like in real life, when you have something really comical happening, and there’s something really tragic attached to it. And when something really tragic has happened, there’s often something trivial and comic about it”.

As a part of Criterion’s periodic feature, Östlund was invited to select some of his favourite cinematic masterpieces of all time. The Swedish maestro’s selection contains gems from this century as well as the last, suggesting that he does have an eclectic taste in cinema as is common with most filmmakers who fall in love with the medium.

While talking about Michael Haneke, Östlund said: “I watched Code Unknown when I was in film school, and I left feeling like I had to pick up the trash in the cinema, like I had to take responsibility. What he was pointing out about individual responsibility toward other human beings really struck me hard. I must say I am grateful that Haneke exists in this time. He has such a European way of making films—it’s beautiful, but he shows no mercy”.

The director also praised Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: “This is the best film title in the world, and I wish so much that I had come up with it myself. It’s a completely absurd film. Buñuel dares to make a movie about this group of people who want to but never manage to eat dinner. There’s a moment when a hand comes up and tries to grab a piece of food off the table. He has no respect for the audience at all, and that of course makes him very interesting.”

Check out a list of Ruben Östlund’s favourite films of all time, including the works of Vittorio De Sica, Stanley Kubrick and many others.

Ruben Östlund’s 10 favourite films:

  • The Tin Drum (Volker Schlöndorff, 1979)
  • The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
  • Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2001)
  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)
  • Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
  • The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
  • Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
  • Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
  • Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
  • Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000)

Östlund recalled the impact of The Tin Drum on his life: “Both the film and the book had a big impact on me when I was a kid. I don’t remember how old I was when I first watched it, but the film was told from the perspective of a young boy who is experiencing the adult world and discovering that it’s horrifying. I remember specific scenes that have an impact on me more than the film does in general”.

Adding, “There’s one in which the characters are fishing for eels in the sea—that scene has affected me in such a way that I have never eaten eel since. Not long ago I showed the film to my brother’s young son, and I was looking at his face and his experience watching it, and I realised that it could have the same impact on this generation growing up now—he was horrified! But at the same time, it’s fascinating.”

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