Starring Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary, Christopher Læssø
A colleague of mine said, “if the film is too much ‘inside-baseball’, then it fails, and that's on the filmmaker for not setting up his world clear enough.” For me that’s what happens here in The Square, the Cannes Palm d’Or winner and very likely foreign film nominee at the 90th Academy Awards. If we can go back a second to director Ruben Östlund’s previous film Force Majeure, which made it to the Golden Globes, but didn’t nab the Oscar nom. That was a similar story-embed, what looked like a natural disaster film, was actually something far more insightful and valuable. The Square is working with the same methodology, but the embedded themes either went over my head or were not prolific enough for me to care.
“I’m not as scholarly as you are,” Anne (Moss) says, interviewing the curator of X-Royal Museum for an upcoming exhibition. Controversy sells and Christian (Bang) who is in charge of the latest exhibitions, wants people interested in what the museum has to offer, especially an exhibit called The Square. The biggest controversy seems to be with Christian himself, whose cell phone is stolen during a bizarre confrontation on he street. He and a co-worker stage a plan to solicit an entire apartment building, in order to bully the thief into returning his phone. Of course this backfires, along with nearly every exhibit on display, creating a domino effect. Christian wants to challenge the patrons of the museum to be better humans, but it’s he, through real life situations, is revealed to be the one who needs the lessons.
The Square will likely mean different things to different viewers, if anything at all.
The irony of The Square might not be as prevalent as some audiences might prefer. If I say I understood and full received the message Östlund is presenting here, then I am no better than Christian who can’t even answer Anne’s question. There are moments that gave me a smile, like Christian telling the demanding homeless lady at 7-11, to pick out the onions herself, after he agrees to buy her food. Or the absurdity in Tourette’s syndrome at a museum Q&A. However, these moments were not enough to keep me engaged for a film that runs over two hours.
The Square makes me feel like Toni Erdman, it’s too long, it’s too complicated, and I didn’t receive whatever everyone else did from the material. Neither Bang or Moss give revelatory performances, but both keep things moderately interesting mostly thanks to their characters unpredictability. Piles of dirt, a roommate that’s a chimp, exploding children, there are so many random elements here that represent taboo’s, vulgarity or hypocrisy, The Square will likely mean different things to different viewers, if anything at all.
Aims to challenge viewers on intellectual hypocrisy by using some of its own.