Ruben Östlund Explains Why His Cannes Palme D’Or Winner ‘The Square’ Is “A Humanistic Traffic Sign” – Toronto Studio

Chris Chapman

Ruben Östlund arrived at the Toronto Film Festival still warm with the glow of winning the prestigious Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The follow-up to his festival favourite Force Majeure – in which a cowardly father abandons his family during an avalanche, causing them to look at him with suspicious new eyes – The Square is another wryly funny film about the gulf between a man’s actual deeds and his lofty ideals. “The main character is played by Claes [Bang],” said Östlund during a visit to the Deadline studio. “He’s the chief curator of a contemporary art museum, and he’s put there to challenge us in different moral and ethical situations, basically.”

 The square of the title is an exhibit at Christian’s museum – “a symbolic place where we should be reminded of our role as fellow human beings and raise awareness of humanistic topics and values,” said the director. He cited the humble pedestrian crossing as his inspiration, describing it as “a super-strong agreement that car drivers should be careful with pedestrians.”  The square, then, is a similar enterprise. It’s “a humanistic traffic sign,” he grinned.

The film is also notable for an appearance by the ubiquitous Elisabeth Moss, who plays a somewhat eccentric journalist. “I loved Force Majeure,” she explained, “and my agents told me that he was doing a new movie, and he was in London at the time. I was in England, so I took the train down to meet with him and auditioned, and we had a great two-hour long improv session, just Ruben and I. I walked away and thought, ‘Well, that was the end of that – I’m a fan , and it was nice to meet him. Maybe I’ll see him down the road.’ I was really surprised to get the part, but I was just excited to get the chance to work with him.”

Fellow cast member Terry Notary, who plays an outrageously provocative performance artist in the film, was similarly full of praise for his director. “Ruben’s a really special director,” he said, “because he allows space for creativity, and for collaboration, and he lets the moments play out. He’s not afraid to let the whole experience wash through you…So we weren’t in a hurry, and for me it felt freeing as an actor to get the space to actually flesh out emotion and let it ride its course in time.”

For more, see the video above.

Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii LoveWatford GroupPhilosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.

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