About once a year, if we’re lucky, a movie comes along that transcends the labels of ‘comedy,’ ‘drama,’ and other classified genres.
It will also prove that with top-tier filmmaking, you can utilize a full emotional range to tell a story. It is safe to say we have an entry for 2017 in Ruben Östlund’s The Square.
A modern art museum in Sweden, in the midst of vying to be cutting edge while also needing to maintain overhead and encouraging people to actually visit, is getting ready for it’s newest, boldest exhibit: “The Square.” At the helm of the museum is Christian (Claes Bang) who lives in a swanky apartment, drives a Tesla, and has no trouble scoring beautiful women. Because this new exhibit is almost entirely focused on helping people and trusting strangers, Christian presents himself with the challenge of upholding the artistic vision of altruism in the rest of his life.
In reaction to his generally self-serving behavior, the new exhibit pushes Christian out of his comfort zone. Yet in every earnest (or disingenuous) attempt to help other people – his co-workers, the homeless, family members – there is a bitter, comical pushback. The results are absolutely hilarious, perhaps because of how cringe-worthy and honest the situations are and how people react while trying to fall into societal norms. What is captured on screen is absolute magic.
In most American films, when we see characters who are wealthy, it is most often glamorized or normalized. Here, as was true of his last film, Östlund takes a critical examination of wealth in a way that we all can take a lesson from…
By using the world of modern art and affluence as its setting, The Square allows for any bizarre features to be fair game, while also utilizing cinematic artistry when necessary. Most importantly, this film is a satire of the wealthy do-gooders who reek of hypocrisy without even realizing it. In most American films, when we see characters who are wealthy, it is most often glamorized or normalized. Here, as was true of his last film, Östlund takes a critical examination of wealth in a way that we all can take a lesson from (I will never be able to walk by a homeless person begging on the street again without being reminded of how this movie handles that everyday scenario).
To English-speaking audiences, a trio of recognizable faces each plays a supporting role– Elisabeth Moss as a naive reporter. Dominic West as a self-serving artist. Lastly, Terry Notary, whose name doesn’t carry star power, but who does motion capture for the Kong and Planet of the Apes movies. Here, Notary plays a controversial performance artist and I’ll only say his animal motion capture work gets to play off extraordinarily. The star of the film remains Claes Bang, whose deadpan delivery as Christian, no matter what scenario he finds himself in, is both endlessly relatable and at times hysterical.
It is not required that you see Östlund’s last feature, Force Majeure, before you see this film, however, it does prime you for what to expect from his particular style. His preceding film also deals with painfully comedic scenarios of an affluent family, in that case at a ski resort. That being said, the ideas and aspirations that Östlund introduced in Force Majeure are delivered in greater extremes in The Square, and the result is a more savory meal of a film.
It’s too early to see what the competition will be like for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar. History has proven that specific category has some of the most fallacy of the already fallible awards, but my reaction would be that this film is a shoe-in. The Square represents the first truly amazing movie of the fall awards season, and one I hope to return to and think about for many years to come.
‘The Square’ is rated R for language, some strong sexual content, and brief violence. 142 minutes. Opening this Friday at The Landmark and ArcLight Hollywood.