This week TIFF will be hosting In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund, a travelling retrospective on the Force Majeure director’s canon of films. Playing from April 9 to 14 at TIFF Bell Lightbox, the series will be highlighting Östlund’s rich and diverse works of which includes two of his award-winning short films and his four features to date. In honour of the series we are taking a look back at Östlund’s body of work.
Before he stunned the world with his blistering examination of the male psyche in Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund was exploring the fragility of man on a much smaller scale. His short film Autobiographical Scene Number 6882 focuses on a young man, Martin, whose boastful ways turn a simple outing into a tense experience. Enjoying a leisurely stroll across a bridge, the casual conversation between Martin and his friends soon moves from banter about alcohol to contemplations regarding the actual height of the structure. Cajoling each other into jump off the bridge into the river below, their estimation of the bridge’s height increases with each new remark, Martin decides to take up the challenge.
It is from this point where Östlund capitalizes on the will he won’t he nature of Martin’s situation. As several of the women in the group plead for Martin to reconsider it quickly becomes apparent that his desire to jump has little to do with personal accomplishment, but rather stroking his ego. He is constantly trying to justify why he thinks the jump won’t be so bad. However, despite not wanting to appear weak in front of his peers, Martin’s bravado cannot mask his fear. His dilemma is further complicated when an old man passing by warns the group that a man died attempting a similar jump two years earlier. Just when it looks like the group is ready to move past the whole bridge jumping debate, and go on with their day, one small offhand remark fuels the macho fire once again.
Evoking a nostalgic tone – the film feels as if the viewer is getting privileged access to someone’s home movie – Östlund generates great tension through his rather minimalist approach. Outside of occasionally following the group across the street, Östlund keeps his camera planted at a distance. The further away he keeps the viewer, the greater the sense of panic and uncertainty begins to creep into the proceedings. The fact that the camera is fixed in such a way that the audience only get, during key moments, a glimpse of bodies frantically in motion builds up the feeling of unease even further.
Autobiographical Scene Number 6882 does not pass any judgments on Martin or his group of friends. It merely observes the ways in which groupthink can impact the fragile male ego. In the film’s brief nine minute running time, Ruben Östlund crafts a heart-pulsing film that keeps the tension building up to its final moments. There is a familiarity with the characters that is easily identifiable for the audience. Everyone has come across a Martin type at some point in their life. This is why the audience feels so invested in Östlund’s film even when the camera is diverting their eyes from seeing the whole picture. Östlund ensures that the audience feels the same pressure as Martin. A master class in showing how easily the male psyche can be pushed into uncomfortable situations, Autobiographical Scene Number 6882 is a riveting short that is a must-see for fans of Force Majeure.
Screens with The Guitar Mongoloid
Sunday, April 12, 6:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox