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'Force Majeure' Director Explains Why There's So Much Peeing In The Movie
Long an unknown quantity in the United States, Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund finally broke through in 2014 with his critically acclaimed Force Majeure, raking in a prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Globe nomination, a spot on the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film, and being named by Variety as one of the 10 Directors to Watch.Despite its success, his latest film isn't a hard left turn into blockbuster filmmaking or awards-bait schmaltz meant to sell as many tickets as possible. It's a natural progression in his career as a artist constantly honing his craft. Force Majeure is a whip-smart, piercing black comedy that deconstructs the concepts of masculinity and the nuclear family. Östlund's manner of doing so is dry and schematic—the individual members of the family at the center of Force Majeure are less full-bodied characters and more archetypes that he uses as test subjects when they are forced into survival mode. "I'm fascinated by sociological topics and using sociological examination to explain the world," the director told LAist. "Force Majeure deals with the nuclear family, coupled relationships, and the role of the man and woman—it is something we are all familiar with. [Its success] is a combination of those ideas and that I have improved as a filmmaker."
There's also a lot of peeing in the film.
"I didn't realize it before I watched it the third time. I thought, 'My God they're urinating... all of them!'" he admits. On further reflection, the Swedish filmmaker figured it wasn't out of line with the rest of the movie. "It's something more basic, or a fundamental need or behavior, in the same way survival is a fundamental instinct."
Force Majeure is the first of Östlund's films to receive distribution in the United States, but his career goes back at least 10 years, and even further back if one were to include the skiing films he made in the 1990s. American audiences will finally get a chance to look at the director's body of work with the touring retrospective In Case Of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund, which opens tonight in Los Angeles at Cinefamily with appearances from the director himself.Although Force Majeure can be thought of as a return to his skiing film roots with its setting at a resort in the French Alps, Östlund says he's now more interested in commenting on the way humans act more than filming them skiing (though he says he still skis at least twice a year). "Involuntary is the one where I realized I was interested in sociological topics," he says of his second feature, which features five parallel stories of group behavior. In 2011's Play, Östlund tapped into a sociological third rail. To analyze notions of class, racial perceptions and political correctness he based it on real life incidents where gangs of black youths used coercive methods to rob white and Asian victims. "It was a tough time," he says of the response to Play. "I was accused of being a racist. For me, that film is dealing with something that is extremely important and hard to talk about. I'm very proud of Play."
Östlund says he's looking forwards to discussing his work with American audiences with appearances on the In Case Of No Emergency tour, feeling bound by a sense of duty that comes with the powers of being behind the camera. "Humans are not an irrational creature, we are an imitating creature," he said. He cites Roberto Saviono's investigative book Gomorrah, which details how members of the Italian criminal underworld began holding theirs guns in the manner of Quentin Tarantino characters. "Films are changing human behavior more than anything else, so there is a certain responsibility that comes with being a filmmaker. And when [you] make a film that is good you have to talk about it afterwards."
In Case Of No Emergency: The Films Of Ruben Östlund starts tonight at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, with appearances from Ruben Östlund tonight and tomorrow. The series moves on across the country, including stops in New York City (Film Society Of Lincoln Center) and the D.C. area (AFI Silver Theatre) next week, and to San Francisco (Yerba Buena Center For The Arts) in February.