Director: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West
Runtime: 2 hr 22 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene and Some Coarse Language)
Official Website: http://sgiff.com/browse-all-films/square/
Opening Day: 26 November 2017 (28th Singapore International Film Festival)
Synopsis: Chief curator Christian and his team are working on publicising the X-Royal Museum’s latest acquisition – “The Square” – an artwork that defines a literal square within which everyone agrees to help one another. Meanwhile, he falls victim to an elaborate pickpocket ruse, and in a fit of pique, hatches a harebrained scheme to recover his belongings which quickly goes wrong. The Square serves up deliciously dark irony through Christian’s struggle to maintain his genteel image despite his own callous egoism. His personal drama is mirrored in the museum’s mission of bringing showy, bewildering contemporary art to the public, while aggressively courting gauche, wealthy patrons. Yet, the film is more than a critique of the art world and the self-righteous elite; it is at its most powerful when it threatens to break the veneer of civility, bringing the characters in confrontation with their flawed selves.
There are many things happening in Ruben Östlund’s satirical drama, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannesfilm festival. Amongst them, which in our opinion takes the prize for being the most baffling, is the scene of a chimpanzee walking around in a living room.
Here’s the scene: the male protagonist visits a female reporter’s apartment where he sees the chimpanzee but to his bewilderment, isn’t acknowledged by her. This is just one of the sequences that left us thinking after the end credits rolled.
The film takes on the world of contemporary art and shames it with the unabashed commerce, ego and – dare we say it – nonsense – that drives the industry. In the centre of this action is Christian, a dashing, classy and very likeable chief curator of an art museum in Stockholm. He has an upcoming exhibition to sell. The artist statement reads: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.”
Smell the bulls**t already?
Adding to the mix is a PR team who strongly believes in creating a social media campaign that generates controversy (are you ready to see a child being blown up?), a lost phone and a wallet (which leads to a very dramatic turn of events), a female reporter who hooks up with Christian after a hilarious one night stand (if you need to know, the hilarious scene involves a condom which almost broke) and a performance artist’s extremely awkward appearance at a gala dinner.
The ensemble cast is committed to their characters. Claes Bang is very charming as Christian, Elisabeth Moss (from TV’s Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale) displays her acting prowess as the opinionated female reporter, Dominic West (Money Monster) does a decent job with his limited screen time and stunt double. Delivering an unforgettably impressive performance is stunt coordinator/ double and movement coach Terry Notary who takes the limelight by role playing a wild animal at a dinner event where things go horribly wrong. Known for his motion capture performances in movies like Avatar, the Planet of the Apes reboot series and The Hobbit film trilogy, it is not difficult to see why he was cast in this small but pivotal role.
The 142 minute film wants to explore many issues. What is the real value of art? What role does PR play? Is social media’s influence getting out of hand? How do corporate values and self censorship go hand in hand? Are human beings turned on by power? While some themes are better approached than others, the film selected by Sweden for the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language category provides enough dosages of drama and comedy to leave viewers thinking about what happened on screen.
(This ambitious film will leave you with thought-provoking issues – you will have to watch it to decide whether you love or hate the 148-minute experience)
Reviewed by John Li at the 28th Singapore International Film Festival