Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s The Square has been nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Oscars. The biting satire on the art world in Europe, inspired in part by Ostlund’s art installation with producer Kalle Boman, won the prestigious Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.
Like The Square, Ostlund’s Incident by a Bank also has autobiographical elements. The 43-year-old director and his producer, Erik Hemmendorff, were on their way to a meeting in 2006 when they observed a robbery in progress. Four years later, in between his second and third feature, Involuntary (2008) and Play (2011), Ostlund converted his eyewitness experience into Incident By A Bank. The short film won the Golden Bear for short films at the Berlin Film Festival in 2010.
The 12-minute short is made up of four takes that are edited together as a single sequence. The meticulously choreographed production used 96 extras to recreate the bank robbery and takes place entirely from the perspective of outsiders. The one-shot technique allows for an added element of authenticity to the heist film. which unfolds in real time.
“The reason that I wanted to create the feeling of a realtime clip is that the small details get as much attention as the most dramatic details”, Ostlund said. “In the Anglo-Saxon dramaturgy we are very used to cutting away all things between the dramatic situations. I wanted to focus on the details in between.”
The decision to focus on the bystanders also allows Ostlund to play with expectations. How should good Samaritans behave when a robbery is in progress? What is appropriate? This element is a recurring theme in the filmmaker’s work. His breakout Force Majeure (2014) focussed on one man’s failure to behave as expected and the resulting effect on his family. In Play (2011), Ostlund examined the psychological effects of gang tactics.
Ostlund’s concerns come from the conventional depictions of human behaviour in Hollywood films, he said. “We saw something suddenly where our only reference was the movies,” he said about Incident By A Bank. “When we saw it in reality it looked surreal. It didn’t fit our expectations. That made me very aware of how moving images have changed the way I see life and the way I behave.”