Ruben Östlund on Scorsese, Spielberg and Heading the Cannes Jury: ‘You Want All Members to Independently Fight for What They Believe In’

Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, whose movies “The Square” and “Triangle of Sadness” have won two of the past five Palmes d’Or, will attend Cannes this year not as a competitor but as jury president. Over a lively phone chat, Östlund (who lives on Majorca with his fashion-photographer wife, Sina Görtz, and their son) shares his wildest aspirations for the festival.

What made you want to take on the role of jury president?

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When you look at the history of who has been the president of the Cannes Film Festival’s jury, you get humbled. My biggest inspirations come from the directors connected to this festival. And the way Cannes is fighting for the intellectual European perspective of cinema is something that is important and unique in the world.

I’m sure you’ll be great, but you’re not a star.

Yes, I am!

You’re not as famous as Kristen Stewart, who presided over the Berlinale jury and joked during the press conference that she doesn’t watch movies.

I know Kristen Stewart, and she’s definitely not a stupid person. So I wouldn’t criticize Berlin’s decision to put her as the head of the jury. There’s a reason why you use the red carpet and romantic ideas about success and stars to draw attention to the content of the films.

What kind of jury president will you be?

I’m going to be a very Swedish president. I’ll be a Swede rather than a president, and a producer rather than a president. And I’m going to be a Social Democratic one.

How so?

The biggest challenge when it comes to being a jury president is to not fall into the trap of looking for consensus. You want all members to independently fight for what they believe in, and not have the most socially skilled people dominating. I want us to have a loud debate about what films should win.

You said you wanted to be the first director to win three Palmes d’Or. But Ken Loach, who already has two, is competing.

Well, if Ken Loach made the best film, then he’s definitely going to get the Palme d’Or. And then I’ll have to win a fourth.

You’re so competitive!

You have to use the competition to gain energy. And think of how much energy the Cannes Film Festival has given to filmmakers all over the world.

What about a revered filmmaker like Martin Scorsese, who apparently doesn’t want to be in competition but is screening “Killers of the Flower Moon” out of competition at the festival?

Of course, if you’re a director of the caliber of Martin Scorsese, to be in competition with other films involves a risk rather than a reward — critics in Cannes can be harsh. But I would like to encourage everybody to enter the competition.

All your films comment on social and political issues. As jury president, will you also be drawn to those kinds of movies? 

If I don’t believe that a film is a true depiction of the world, then I won’t fight for it. But if I feel that this is a true depiction of the world, then I will. It’s very hard to get away from the political aspect of movies.

Did you have a say in who will be on the jury with you? 

I’ve made suggestions, but I’m not the one deciding.

What was your experience in the Oscar race this year with “Triangle of Sadness”?

It was interesting to talk to the other directors — especially Steven Spielberg. He talked to me about the era of the 1970s and the 1980s, when you had a collective of great directors working together, criticizing each other, pushing each other. We Europeans should find a way to work together more and get energy from a collective and try to not be so lonely in our profession.

What can we expect from your next film, “The Entertainment System Is Down”? 

It’s going to create the biggest walkout in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.

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