Swedish film director Ruben Ostlund, 44, has directed more than a dozen films in his career, including his 2017 satirical film “The Square” which earned him the prestigious Palme d’Or in the Cannes Film Festival and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. But long before the prestige and awards, Ostlund came of age making ski films inspired by his first love.
Growing up on Styrsö, a small rocky island on the south coast of Sweden with only 1,400 inhabitants, Ostlund learned to ski in Lapland during regular visits to his grandparents. After finishing his compulsory education in 1993, he spent the next two seasons skiing in the Alps with friends.
In 1995, he found himself directing a Swedish snowboard movie called “Toast” in Riksgränsen, a resort in Northwestern Sweden. A spectacular run by local skier Jesper Rönbäck caught his eye on a chairlift ride and made him question where and at whom he should point his camera.
Ostlund’s decision to start shooting Rönbäck and his fellow mogul skiers resulted in “Free Radicals” (1997) and “Free Radicals 2” (1998), films that showed newschool tricks and received praise for the strong skiing and bullet-proof landings. “Free Radicals” skier Janne Aikio’s massive quarter-pipe air landed a POWDER Magazine cover in 1996.
Ostlund’s later films include “Let the Others Deal with Love” (2000), a coming-of-age documentary about the group of skiers Ostlund had skied within the Alps and “Force Majeure” (2014), a film that takes place in the French Alps in the aftermath of an avalanche.
Ostlund now lives in Gothenburg and is a professor in the same film school where he once studied and is directing his latest film, “Triangle of Sadness.” He skis every chance he gets.
Skiing became my identity when I was around 12 years old. I thought it was nice to have an identity that not everyone else on Styrsö had. There was something about that which I liked.
I decided I wanted to go to the Alps as soon as I was finished with school to spend a couple of winters skiing. I was completely focused on that goal.
I’ve been watching more ski movies than I have watched any other movies. I wasn’t even interested in the film industry and fiction feature films.
I remember the first ski movie that I ordered through POWDER Magazine, it was “Carving the White” by Real Action Pictures with Eric Pehota and Trevor Petersen. I also watched Greg Stump movies like “Blizzard of Aahhhs” and “Licence to Thrill.” I never got hold of “P-Tex, Lies and Duct Tape.” That annoyed me.
There were so many snowboarders who were sponsored [during the late ’90s]. It was crazy and the level of the riders was not always that good. I remember that the skiers were a little bit jealous at the time of the attention.
The runs I witnessed Jesper skiing in Riksgränsen were definitely comparable to the ones I’ve seen Terje Håkonsen doing regarding fluidity and playfulness. It was so impressive.
When we were shooting ski movies we had maybe 100 days of shooting for a 30-minute movie. We were out shooting every single day from mid-December until April. The stamina that you got during those years is still very important to me now.
All the actors that I am working with have the understanding that I want them to perform or do something extraordinary in front of the camera-not only cover the script. It’s about creating a moment that is worth saving. This comes from the skiing years: to create a spectacular moment that you want to show to others.
When you are watching ski movies, the longer the take, the better the performance is by the skier. If he or she can do a long dynamic run full of tricks, then it’s a great performance. Making a cut is a way of covering mistakes. I think I had this attitude in my first films-I wanted to have long scenes and shots to create a strong feeling of presence.
One reason I wanted to shoot [Force Majeure] was the scene with an avalanche. I had seen a YouTube clip with a group of people standing on an outdoor restaurant filming an avalanche coming down the mountain, thinking first that it’s beautiful and end up running away shit-scared.
I do a lot of takes, on an average 30-40. We try to push in some intensity. This might also come from skiing. I remember how enjoyable it was to film a skier coming down a mountain with no tracks on it: If you miss it, there is no second take. There was such a strong feeling of the presence. I try to create that also in the film sets when I am shooting now.
The progression of the ski movies is very impressive, but I have an ambivalent feeling to it in many ways. You can tell that the films are done by a generation that was brought up by PlayStation. I strongly believe that human beings are an imitating creature; we imitate what we see. This has really changed the sport.
I have never cared about stories in ski movies. I must say that I have never seen a ski movie where I feel someone has managed to tell intellectually a story in a way that would make me feel that I get something out of it. I prefer the action.
I was in the Sundance Film Festival this year and what’s great about the festival is that you get to ski. I spent five days of it skiing.