with his movie Without filter, palme d’or at the last Cannes Film Festival, the Swedish director settles his accounts with society.
What does “being a man” mean in today’s world? How does he adapt in a society obsessed with image and steeped in injunctions? What dilemmas and obstacles must he face? After Snow Therapy and The Square, a satire of the world of contemporary art awarded with a palme d’or in 2017, Ruben Östlund once again explores these existential questions in Without filter.
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The hero, model-influencer, takes part in a luxury cruise with his fiancée, also a model, and a few ultra-rich. But, after a storm, it is shipwreck: the couple runs aground on a desert island with a group of survivors. Unable to ensure their survival, they become dependent on Abigail, ex-housekeeper on the liner… The humor is fierce in this tragicomedy which reverses roles and tests our limits, especially in an already anthological scene of seasickness. But behind the audacity there is also a relevant criticism of the excesses of an individualistic society plagued by the cult of appearances, gender stereotypes and money. Which will have convinced the jury of the Cannes Film Festival which, last May, awarded its second Palme to the Nordic filmmaker.
On video, Without filter (Triangle of Sadness), the teaser
Miss Figaro. – Centered on microcosms, your films are similar to sociological studies. is this an approach that you claim?
Ruben Ostlund. – I have always been interested in sociology which studies us not as individuals but as a species. I too wanted to take a step back to try to show how our status in society and our physique affect our behaviors, and what happens when, suddenly, those who had everything find themselves destitute and dependent on those whom one did not look, or despised.
Your heroes, models, are here at the top of the pyramid. Is beauty a source of power in today’s world?
I grew up at a time when we were told that looks mattered less than what we carried inside. But today, in a society bulimic images, beauty has more than ever become a currency, a market value. On social networks, we no longer sell a product, we are a product. The way you present yourself is at the center of everything, and if you ask young people if they prefer intelligence to beauty, I fear that the second, more profitable these days, will win out.
You don’t seem very optimistic?
In the film, during the parade scene, this sentence is inscribed in the decor: “Cynicism under the guise of optimism.” This is what, in my opinion, best sums up our time: everything has become a marketing asset. Multinationals, for example, send out green messages but really wash their hands of the state of the planet: only profit counts. As for the governments, they appeal to our individual responsibility to clear customs. However, if climate change increases, sorting our garbage cans won’t change anything.
This is what, in my opinion, best sums up our time: everything has become a marketing asset.
However, the portrait you paint of our society is not black and white…
It was essential not to fall into the angelic vision of the nice poor and the rotten rich. I tend to think that people on the left in Europe systematically pillorie the billionaire or the boss. They forget that the problem is not individual but structural. The abuse of power can win us all. We are rarely more virtuous than our neighbors… With a few exceptions.
Is the film a warning, an incentive to think collectively, at a time when the world is experiencing a pandemic, wars and climatic disasters?
No one should think they are above the fray, because no one knows what the future holds, let alone today. It was in the Bible – I’m not making this up – but we tend to forget it. However, I prefer not to speak of warning because the term would induce a certain idea of fear of the other that I refuse. On the contrary, I am for the encounter, which will be at the heart of my next film. The Entertainment System is Down will recount a long-haul flight with passengers deprived of screens and forced to talk to each other and confront their neuroses.
Isn’t there a certain irony in being rewarded with a Palme d’or by film personalities that we associate with the rich and powerful?
I make films about the social groups that I know. Many cinema professionals, however very established, are convinced that they are not the rich and privileged of this world. This is however the case on a global scale. I don’t make movies to spare myself or my peers. I’ve always thought it was important to look yourself straight in the eye, to question yourself. And I was lucky that the jury did not want to be stroked in the direction of the hair either.
I don’t make movies to spare myself or my peers
What does a Palme d’Or change?
The perception that people have of you, especially in my country which had not received this honor since Bille August, for Shovel the Conqueror (1988) and Best Intentions (1992). Such a prestigious award allows you to meet and discuss with those you have always admired, Michael Haneke for example, one of my idols. Maybe it would have been possible before but winning the Palme disinhibited me. I also received more proposals from the Americans, who had already identified me as the “sensation of the moment” with Snow Therapy. But they quickly understood that I wanted to tell my own vision of the world, in complete freedom.
And the second Palm?
She consolidated my ego, that’s not bad! Seriously, when Without filter was selected in competition at Cannes, I was simply relieved: the film was expensive and I hoped that it would have the best possible launch pad for people who had dared to believe in it. La Palme is a source of great pride of course, and the bonus that I dared not hope for.
Without filter, by Ruben Östlund, with Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean Kriek…
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