Ruben Östlund Talks Social Satire Triangle of Sadness, Privilege and Embracing Bad Reviews

Swedish director Ruben Östlund opened this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival with his raucously entertaining new social satire “Triangle of Sadness,” continuing a festival tour that began this spring at Cannes — where he nabbed the Palme d’Or, joining the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Haneke in the select club of filmmakers to have earned the honor twice. In Sarajevo, where he also received the festival’s Heart of Sarajevo Award, he joined us at the Variety Lounge presented by Sarajevo Film Festival to talk about privilege, masculinity and embracing bad reviews.

Following his Oscar-nominated art-scene comedy “The Square,” Östlund’s latest sees him taking aim at the One Percent, western entitlement, the fashion industry, the arms trade, you name it — all colliding on a luxury cruise that goes spectacularly awry. It’s a rare blend of arthouse and gross-out sensibilities, and surely holds the record for most onscreen vomiting in a Cannes winner: “I wanted it to be a wild, entertaining rollercoaster,” he says, citing the classic 1980s farce “A Fish Called Wanda” as an inspiration for its comic beats.

But he isn’t afraid to shock audiences even as he tickles them, and welcomes polarized opinions — even going so far as to include quotes from negative reviews on the DVD of his first film. That perverse nature extends to his work: From his breakout feature “Force Majeure” (remade in the U.S. as “Downhill”) through to “The Square” and now “Triangle of Sadness,” Östlund has always traded in a comedy of discomfort and embarrassment. “As soon as you step away a little bit from the actual person who is dealing with a hard or horrible situation, it becomes comical,” he explains.

As for the future, where most filmmakers are reluctant to disclose details of their next project, Östlund couldn’t be more eager to tell us all about it. Another darkly satirical comedy, reteaming the director with “Triangle” star Woody Harrelson, “The Entertainment System Is Down,” will be set on a long-haul flight where the technical shutdown of the in-flight entertainment causes escalating chaos: he wants to study modern humanity deprived of its modern devices, “losing the dopamine addiction that we have in our pocket.” Expect more outrage and outrageousness. Östlund even threatened to reveal the film’s ending to Variety: As ever, the Swede has no interest in playing by the rules.

“Triangle of Sadness” will be released by Neon on Oct. 7.

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