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In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund (feature)

In Case Of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund


Ruben Östlund is a 40-year-old Swedish filmmaker whose name you might remember making the rounds in early 2015 after a video of him and his producer supposedly reacting live to their superb film FORCE MAJEURE sadly getting snubbed for the Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination went viral.  It’s a brilliant piece of staged video that is equal parts tragic and sidesplittingly hilarious (“No, no. Don’t undress. Don’t undress.”), much in line with his body of work, which poignantly explores many different facets of human behavior and the kind of situations that force us to reveal who we are at our most primal core.

In many ways Östlund is almost more sociologist than auteur – not to degrade his filmmaking, which is truly excellent. But he has an ongoing fascination with what makes us tick and his latest film FORCE MAJEURE – which was undoubtedly one of 2014’s best, and likely his best film yet – is perhaps the finest example of his abilities, investigating gender roles and all other kinds of social norms through the framework of a father who instinctively abandons his family in a time of need. FORCE MAJEURE quietly garnered some notice late last year as a bit of a hidden gem, but enough people were taken by its darkly comedic honesty that a retrospective of Östlund’s filmography – comprised of four features and two shorts – is now currently touring, and it’s must-see for any cinephiles out there looking for a look into the mind of a genuine auteur that is making exceedingly sharp, transfixing pieces on the nature of being human.


The program titled In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund (currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre in Toronto from April 9th – 14th) is a subtly enthralling series of films that, other than FORCE MAJEURE, includes Östlund’s first feature THE GUITAR MONGOLOID: a strangely juvenile, Korine-esque examination of isolation, and how freeing it can be, INVOLUNTARY: a thoughtful, cohesive character study on the power and consequences of groupthink, PLAY: a controversial yet sincere exploration of race and stereotypes that is both observational and empathetic, and two short films that are equally drenched in his fascination with the human condition.

Östlund is a truly unique filmmaker, using excellent performers and long, static takes to trap the audience and force them to unblinkingly scour the frame for a way out of whatever uncomfortable truth he is examining or weird social experiment he’s putting his characters – and by extension, us – through. Not every film in Öslund’s filmography is as focused and intelligent as FORCE MAJEURE, but his filmography is nonetheless an interesting progression that even at its worst is mildly thought-provoking and at its best is existentially devastating. It’s well worth the watch, even if just to see how such an interesting auteur developed and honed his skills and sensibilities into a true masterwork like FORCE MAJEURE. If I haven’t made it clear, even if you can’t make it to anything else, go see FORCE MAJEURE.

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