The Square - 2017
Director(s): Ruben Östlund
Writer(s): Ruben Östlund
Cinematography by: Fredrik Wenzel
Editor(s): Ruben Östlund and Jacob Secher Schulsinger
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary and Dominic West
Synopsis: We follow the director of a modern art museum as his professional and personal life implode during the installation of their latest exhibit, The Square.
It’s perfectly fitting that this film is set in the backdrop of a modern art museum, because like many modern art exhibits that I have visited, it left me with the lingering question of “but why?” I can see the talent, I can see the work it took to complete it and I can see the commitment to the vision, but I fail to see the reason outside of it being “modern art”. The Square is a satire of how society has completely lost its sense of community and no longer seek out to help the ones in need. Director Ruben Östlund (2014’s Force Majeure) stitched together what seems like completely random scenes all loosely tied together by the theme of helping your fellow man and called it a movie. I guess.
Ruben Östlund continues his streak of well received satirical movies. Force Majeure was on the short list for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and The Square will probably receive a nomination since it has already won the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. If I took each scene as if they were standalone events that don’t connect I think I enjoyed what Östlund created. There are many scenes that had me laughing and enjoying myself. One of my favorite scenes comes when Anne, played by Elisabeth Moss, confronts Christian, played by Claes Bang, after they had a sexual encounter and he hadn’t reached out to her. She is loud and mad in the middle of the museum and he is trying to keep the situation civilized as he needs to keep his reputation and stature intact. There is also an exhibit of piles of ashes that gets a lot of screen time and produces a couple of laughs as well.
Quick note: before I get the proverbial “you didn’t get it” comment I want to assure you that this movie is random for the sake of being random. In an interview Östlund was asked why did Anne have a monkey in her apartment? He replied "I love monkeys. And I think that human beings love looking at monkeys, because we are reflecting ourselves in looking at them. Everything should have a monkey in it.". Everything should have a monkey in it.
One of the aspects of this film that kept me engaged was the acting from the entire cast. Claes Bang was great as this flawed museum director. He is the only character that has a full arch as he slowly (very slowly) starts to see that he is preaching for society to be a community once again, yet his life is selfish and self-serving. Elisabeth Moss is hilarious as this overbearing reporter that falls for Bang. They had great chemistry and played well off each other.
I also want to point out Terry Notary who plays Oleg, a performance artist invited to do a live exhibition during a formal dinner party at the museum. Notary is best known for his work in the Apes trilogy and the recent Kong: Skull Island, serving as an ape movement specialist and as some of the ape characters in the movies. His performance as the “monkey man” and his entire sequence is the stand-out of the entire movie. He didn’t need a single CGI hair added to his body for me to completely buy his performance as a wild animal. This scene is also the best example of the theme the movie wanted to share with the audience. Despite the room being filled with at least a couple hundred people, everyone put their heads down and didn’t help each other when this wild animal was targeting people. Its visceral, surreal and filled with tension. It’s a great scene lost in an incoherent movie.
The Square is a funny, well crafted, well-acted stack of scenes that ultimately don’t add up to a cohesive, entertaining movie. At times I was laughing, at times I was intrigued and at times I was utterly bored, especially with the running time being at a completely unnecessary 2h 22m. Maybe I don’t love monkeys as much as Östlund or maybe this piece of modern art wasn’t for me, but when your movie is designed around being random for being random, I end up regretting the time I invested in it. Terry Notary’s performance is why I love movies.
The Square is currently playing in theaters. I can’t recommend this movie, but I won’t stop you from watching it if anything I said above intrigues you to watch it for yourself.
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