Magnolia Pictures 2 hours and 26 minutes R Reviewed November 10, 2017
What happens when a Museum curator who is always trying to do the right thing, creates art with a positive message that backfires. This is more a film about the effect of bad marketing and advertising campaigns than anything else.
Director Ruben Östlund’s main character is Christian,(Claes Bang), a divorced father of 2 young daughters who turn out to be more mature in many ways than he is. He is involved in meeting after meeting with marketing reps who are so serious but hilarious in their presentations of a new exhibit called “The Square.” It’s a very funny scene seeing an old bronze sculpture in front of the museum being summarily taken down to make way for a square area to display the new exhibit which is supposed to remind passersby to be good people.
Christian is interviewed by a novice journalist from the States (Elisabeth Moss) who plays nervous and inept with perfection. She says she did a lot of improv to show she could handle the part which is very different from her other past roles. She and Christian eventually get together in a ridiculous sex scene which is very awkward from the start. The director has the camera show what it’s like to see each from the other’s point of view throughout. It is an odd way to shoot their tryst but succeeds in showing how ridiculously unemotional and boring the experience is for both.
Christian is also drawn into a situation when he is duped on the street by a woman claiming to need his help to protect her from a killer. His cell phone and wallet are stolen in the process. (This actually happened in real life to a friend of the director’s and he incorporated it.) Christian and a colleague come up with a plan to paper the apartment building with a reward where his “find a phone” tells him his device is located. He ends up getting in nothing but trouble. He also gets a little boy living there in trouble because his parents ground him thinking he is the culprit. The little guy reminded us of the “Linda, Linda” kid who went viral on You Tube last year.
There is another scene that actually happened to the director he also put in the film. Christian is giving a talk at the museum and a man with Tourettes Syndrome starts saying outrageous, inappropriate things using foul language at the top of his lungs. It’s another bizarre and uncomfortable scene and situation for Christian to have to handle. Then there is a formal dinner the director creates where the subject of one of Christian’s art exhibits is a bare chested man who acts like an ape (Terry Notary). His behavior becomes truly weird and very disturbing. You may squirm in your seat.
But it really gets messy when his exciting, new exhibit is shown all over TV and the internet as the image of a young child being treated in a very shocking way. It gets a reaction all right. Christian is blindsided by the exhibit and the marketing of it. It all turns to disaster.
This is dark satire and Claes Bang is excellent as the uncomfortable head of the asylum who really is trying to do good. The camera work by Frederik Wenzel is beautifully framed and very artistic using clean overhead shots looking down on stairways that go on forever. And dramatic shots of the architecture of the museum itself become even more art objects.
The film is long leading up to the climax and it’s a shocking moment when you find out what all the fuss was about. You are really following how this mild mannered curator has to handle the silly situations he gets himself into and what he devises to try to get himself out. Bang plays a likable guy who makes bad decisions. The film is too long, but there is a payoff. Interesting to see Elisabeth Moss in a foreign film with subtitles but there is also a lot of English. The visuals are fascinating and very often subtly funnOy, as when the maintenance crew sweeps up piles of dirt which which are part of an exhibit and it has to be put back before anyone finds out.
The Square is a bizarre film that has it’s moments and Claes Bang is very good at playing suave but awkward. Just know that it’s long at 2 hours and 26 minutes and, like in an art museum, the visuals are beautiful. But know that you will have to be patient to enjoy it.