In 2015, on Oscar nominations morning, Swedish director Ruben Östlund became something of an internet meme. Östlund and his producing partner Erik Hemmendorff, inside a room in New York’s Trump Hotel, filmed their reaction to not getting a nomination for their popular foreign-language film, the ski slope farce “Force Majeure.”
But this morning, eight years later, was different. In the intervening years, Östlund has twice won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, for 2018’s “The Square” and 2022’s “Triangle of Sadness.” On Tuesday, that latter film, a raucous English-language comedy set aboard a luxury yacht, scored three major Oscar nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.
“For us, it was the exact opposite reaction,” Östlund told TheWrap from his native Stockholm. He was gathered at a restaurant with friends when the nominations were announced, the day after “Triangle of Sadness” won six top awards at the Guldbagge Awards, Sweden’s national film awards.
“It was pure joy,” he said of hearing about his three Oscar nominations, and added with a laugh, “so there’s not much interesting to see.”
Östlund explained that he was genuinely touched by the recognition. “We worked really hard on making a movie that would work for an audience in the cinema. I wanted it to be an experience to watch together with other people. When it comes to Oscars, it seems like the members who watched the film really enjoyed it. That is the best feeling of all.”
Of his nomination for Best Director, Östlund added, “The people who know about filmmaking, in the directors’ branch, also liked it. And that makes me especially proud.”
Regarding his nomination for Best Original Screenplay, the filmmaker pointed out that he owes part of his film’s success to all the friends and acquaintances that inspired his writing.
“When I’m writing a script, I talk endlessly about the film to everybody I meet,” he said. “And I love to observe how people react when I’m pitching the film, so you could say I’m using a lot of other people’s brains to write. The actual writing process is perhaps a little bit shorter because I’ve been speaking about it so much and to so many people and I have a better feeling for what fits.”
Östlund is a professor of film at the University of Gothenburg. On Tuesday’s call, he described how a conversation with his class several years ago spun the script for “Triangle of Sadness” in a different direction.
“I was mentioning the story of ‘Triangle of Sadness’ to the class, and one of the students asked, ‘Shouldn’t the yacht cleaner character be a woman?’ Because as I was writing it, the character was a man. And thanks to that student, the character became Abigail.”
Abigail is played in the film by Filipina actress Dolly de Leon, a Golden Globe nominee who missed out on a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Östlund was effusive in his praise for his cast of actors, which in addition to de Leon includes Harris Dickinson, Zlatko Burić, Vicki Berlin, Woody Harrleson, and the late Charlbi Dean, who died last August after a sudden illness.
“It is the ensemble cast which makes the movie work,” he said. “When I was doing the casting, I was thinking about the wide spectrum of different actors and personalities that I wanted to be in the film, which give you a rich feeling while you’re watching it. I really hope to bring them all with me to the Oscars. And I hope these nominations are a way to pay tribute to the performance of Charlbi Dean. I really wish she was here to share all of this. It’s always going to be so sad that we lost her.”
On a lighter note, the director expressed his happiness that an overt comedy film, even if one with darker elements, proved successful with the historically comedy-allergic Oscars.
“It’s really fantastic,” he said. “Because I have tried to hold onto the art-house, European tradition of filmmaking, which is where my roots are, but to move a step closer to the Hollywood tradition, because the U.S. film industry is so great for bringing in a much bigger audience.”
During the most talked-about sequence in “Triangle of Sadness,” inclement weather causes prolonged seasickness among the yacht passengers, replete with graphic vomiting and overflowing toilets. (In fact, Erik Hemmendorff, the aforementioned and now Oscar-nominated producer, has a cameo as a passenger knocked down by a cascade of human waste.)
It might very well qualify as the movie with the most barfing to ever be nominated for Best Picture.
“Well,” Östlund said with a big laugh, “I enjoy that prize, too.”