Cannes: Palme d’Or Winner Ruben Ostlund on ‘The Square’ and Breaking Art House Conventions

The Swedish director was the surprise winner of the 70th edition of the film festival on Sunday.

Few seemed more surprised than Ruben Ostlund when the Cannes jury announced him, and his film The Square, as the winner of this year’s Palme d’Or.

Almost no one, and certainly not the film’s director, expected the dark Swedish satire of the art world, featuring Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West, to take art house cinema’s top honor.

“When they said my name, I screamed straight out,” recalls Ostlund. “And then I was hugging (The Square star) Claes Bang, my girlfriend and the film’s producers. It was surreal. Beautiful, but surreal.”

Cannes critics had lauded The SquareThe Hollywood Reporter‘s chief critic Todd McCarthy called it “a potent, disturbing work that explores the boundaries of political correctness, artistic liberty and free speech in provocative ways” — but the film felt too unconventional and, frankly, too funny, to take the Palme.

For some, it also seemed too close to home. The story of a museum curator (Bang) who begins questioning his life and his commitment to the pristine liberal values after his cell phone is stolen, tears through the pretensions of the art world, a world not too far removed from Cannes’ society of champagne and socially conscious cinema.

The film’s central image —an art installation called The Square, which represents a sanctuary of humanitarian values and equal rights —draws attention to how far the “right thinking society” has fallen short of its ideals. This is made clear in a central scene where a “animal performer,” played by Terry Notary, the American actor who did motion-capture performances for the Planet of the Apes films, disrupts a grand formal dinner of celebrities and wealthy patrons. The resulting chaos likely sent a chill down the spine of many a Cannes grandee.

Speaking to THR‘s European bureau chief Scott Roxborough, Ostlund said art house cinema needs to be shaken out of its pretensions…

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