‘The Square’ marvelously carries bizarre and hilarious edges
Written and directed by: Ruben Ostlund
Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary, Christopher Laesso, and Dominic West
“The Square” – Do you enjoy modern art? Modern art can offer fascinating trips into extraordinary visions, kooky madness, fashionable imagery turned on its head, and much more. Walk into a modern art museum, and one might find neon orange cubes that turn purple and then back to their original color every 30 seconds or so. In another room, one could spot repeated portraits of Sophia Loren layered with newspaper and paraded on the walls, and the adjacent corridor may house an oil painting splashed by one thousand hues and shapes.
Such a museum may even feature the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, one that Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) hoped to visit in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983).
No matter what you think of the discipline, modern art often delivers a feast for senses.
Writer/director Ruben Ostlund’s (“Force Majeure” (2014)) latest film – which won Cannes coveted 2017 Palme d’Or - delivers a feast for the senses too. It’s a bizarre and hilarious story about an art curator’s wildly unexpected journey within the confines of his social circles, dating life and workplace, the X-Royal Museum. Christian’s (Claes Bang) day begins like any other, as he walks to work in downtown Stockholm, when an unknown pedestrian approaches him in an unusual manner. Their off-the-wall exchange results in Christian’s misfortune and triggers a series of repercussions throughout the rest of the film.
While trying to navigate through his suddenly-presented First World problem – which should truly be labeled as an inconvenience – he also copes with daily lunacy that matches the peculiar X-Royal exhibits.
Bang – who is 6’ 4” – appears even taller and carries a James Bond-like air. Debonair, charming and suave, Christian seems like he opted for the British Secret Service early retirement program after one too many close calls with SPECTRE and embraced an alternative, tranquil existence of choosing and promoting paintings, sculptures and other thoughtful works. The museum surrounds itself with pieces like a towering stack of cafeteria chairs and a looped film of a man acting as a primate, and its newest creation is called The Square and defined as “a sanctuary of trust and caring.”
One might think that The Square would be a pleasant, one-off departure of quiet normalcy, but its promotion hilariously skids off the guardrails, primarily because of Christian’s continued distraction from the said, opening encounter in the film.
Ostlund takes creative chances with situational set pieces that are wildly entertaining on their own, but admittedly do not always fit with the narrative. For instance, one character (who shall not be named in this review) shares an apartment with a monkey, but the film never explains why. One could simply conclude that Ostlund solely introduced this infinitely peculiar choice for comedy’s sake, but hey, this particular decision works in the moment and so do many others throughout the film. Five minutes into the picture, “The Square” sweeps its audience on a ride, accompanied by a figurative florescent billboard that flashes, “Don’t ask questions. Just go with it!”
Many times, this leap of faith rewards the audience with showers of hysterical riches but also with some uncomfortable ones too, including a scene specifically designed to leave us squirming in our seats for 10 long, agonizing minutes. One can “thank” Ostlund and actor Terry Notary for the most awkward and uneasy big screen event (within a comedy) in 2017. Notary, however, is not the only memorable supporting contributor, as Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men” (2007 – 2015)) wonderfully soaks up every on-screen moment with her perfect comedic timing as an American journalist.
Moss is a treasure, as well as so much of “The Square”, and just like so many experiences when viewing modern art, feasts for the senses are not always easily explained or understood.
Don’t ask questions. Just go with it.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.