‘I think rich people are nice. They just don’t like to pay taxes
Ruben Ostlund, who toured the world to present his Palme d’Or winning film “Triangle of Sadness”, made his first trip to Morocco for the Marrakech Film Festival. He was on the ground to deliver a joyful and busy masterclass, in the footsteps of Jim Jarmusch, James Gray, Asghar Farhadi, Leos Carax and Julia Ducournau, also present on the Moroccan scene this year. Ostlund also took the time to chat with Variety in the Pierre Hermé tea room nestled in the lush gardens of the La Mamounia palace.
Ostlund, who traveled with his wife and one-year-old child, said he doesn’t regret embarking on a theatrical distribution strategy with ‘Triangle of Sadness’, even if the market doesn’t is not fully recovered from the pandemic. The film began its global rollout in theaters at the end of September and has so far grossed around $11 million, with many more markets to launch. Neon acquired the title at the Cannes Film Festival.
As previously reported by Variety, the Swedish director is currently developing “The Entertainment System is Down”, a comedy set on board a long-haul flight and inspired by Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel “Brave New World”. The comedy will explore the erratic behaviors of passengers when they don’t have a screen to watch.
How come ‘Triangle of Sadness’ is finally playing in theaters? Did you expect even higher numbers of soundtracks?
Yeah, sure, we’ve been very loyal to the distributors we work with, and they’ve built a certain type of following over the years. So I’m very happy that the film is going well for them and that they are back after the pandemic and making money again by distributing films.
It’s clearly a crowd pleaser, but a lot of people assume that’s not because they think it’s an arthouse movie from a European auteur.
One thing with European cinema is that we have a state-funded film industry in Europe, so we are economically secure. I’m very proud of that and I think it’s very important, but it means we don’t have to make films that hit the end and reach the audience. This is why there is a huge difference between European cinema and American cinema which does not benefit from any public funding and which has been much more successful in reaching the public. European art house cinema has become a genre in itself and something that people consider unpleasant. It’s as if there should be a contradiction between entertaining and important content. But since I made “Force Majeure”, my goal has been to combine the best of American cinema, where you reach the public, with European cinema, where you discuss society and provoke reflection. And I think the public is really interested in that.
I know you tested “Triangle of Sadness” in foreign markets. Now that the film is out, how do you keep in touch with the public?
With “Triangle of Sadness” I went to 18 different cinemas in Sweden. And when I do that, I get to know my audience and they get to know me. And we can build a common arena where we can make film culture vital and energize it, because that culture is more unique today than it was 20 years ago. Theaters are now the only space where we watch images together. TV is not. The only thing Swedes watch together on TV is the Eurovision Song Contest. Public television in Sweden has less of an audience than the biggest influencers who are 14 years old. So I’m very confident because we have a unique selling point and we should stop dreaming about the numbers that theaters were getting in the 1960s and 1970s because they never come back. But we have a unique place and it’s a joy to work with him.
Do you think winning a prize at Cannes gives a mark to a film that says it’s going to be too “author”?
It’s true. It puts a cachet, but I also hope that “Triangle of Sadness” will change the perception of this cachet.
Do you regret that “Triangle of Sadness” is not eligible for an international film Oscar because it is in English?
Not really. And I want a third Palme d’Or.
But you just won your second!
I want to be humble. It was fantastic to win the first time. I never thought it would happen again. And when you win the second time, what’s scary is that then you realize it’s possible to win a third time. And then I would be the only one in the world. I’m sorry, but that’s the kind of fantasies I have. And it’s great to use it to set the bar when talking to your crew. You say to them: “Okay, the next film must be so good that we may be able to win the third Palme d’Or. Everyone must participate and give their best. And then if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t matter. We will have pushed our performance.
And you still want to do the next movie in English, right?
Yes, my next film will be in English. You know, my wife speaks English, my son is brought up in English, Swedish and German. I live in a world where I speak English. The film will take place in an airplane. It is an international framework. English is therefore the only language that I can approach on this subject.
Is this going to be another critique of the ultra-rich?
No, I’m not interested in criticizing the ultra-rich. I think rich people are nice. They just don’t like paying taxes.
But the fact is that when people get on a plane in business class, the risk of air rage increases fourfold. That says a lot about our company. What I can advise all rich people is: don’t let the poor see how badly you have it because it will make them angry!
So is Woody Harrelson really going to play in it?
I can’t tell you, I’m sorry!
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