Friday, 30 March 2018

THE SQUARE : Tuesday 27th March 2018

'THE SQUARE' which I finally caught this week one month after its Australian release at the end of February, is a Swedish, French, German and Danish Co-Produced satirical drama film Directed by Ruben Ostlund and was shown in competition for the Palme d'Or at The Cannes Film Festival in May last year, where it took out that prestigious award. It subsequently screened at The Sydney Film Festival last June, TIFF in September, and went out on a limited release in the UK last August, and the US in September. Only five months after that did it get its Australian release having done the festival circuit and picking up 27 award wins and a further 37 nominations in the meantime. It was also in the running for the Best Foreign Language Film at the recent 90th Academy Awards. The film was made for a mere US$5.5M and so far recovered US$9M, and has received generally positive Reviews.

Here Christian (Claes Bang) is the respected Curator of the prestigious contemporary X-Royal Art Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. The film opens up with him being interviewed for the camera by journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss) who asks him to interpret some artistic jargon contained within their website, to which Christian struggles to find a simple answer.

Later the next morning, when Christian is walking across a busy plaza on his way into work he is confronted by a screaming woman claiming that she is being chased by a man who wants to kill her. After calming the woman down, and seeing off her would be assailant aided by another man, he walks away and notices that his wallet and smartphone are both missing. He's been pick-pocketed during that apparent fracas.

Back at his office he is able to track the location of his smartphone using his computer aided by a colleague Michael (Christopher Laesso) and discovers that it is just a few blocks away in a large apartment building. The pair hatch a plan to type up a letter demanding return of his phone and wallet intact, otherwise the authorities will be alerted to its whereabouts. The letter is then to be hand delivered to every apartment letterbox in the block later that night by one of the pair. The perpetrators are to deposit the phone and wallet at a nearby 7/11 Store marked for the attention of Christian if they want to escape prosecution.

Meanwhile, Christian is overseeing the installation of a new exhibit at the museum - 'The Square' by renowned artist Lola Arias which is described by the artist as 'a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.' The Advertising Agency commissioned by the museum are tasked with coming up with a message to stir the emotions on the international stage, and bring onlookers flocking to the museum to see it. They have a week to turn around their concept and come back with something extraordinary, harnessing the power of social media.

Within a couple of days Christian receives a phone call from the manager at the 7/11 informing him that a package has been delivered marked for his attention. He collects it, and lo and behold inside is his smartphone and wallet returned, both fully intact. He is very pleasantly surprised to say the least. That night at a party at the museum Christian meets Anne again and they begin to flirt, and he winds up at her apartment, in the company of her pet fully grown chimpanzee! They have sex, and then argue immediately afterwards when Anne offers to discard the used condom. Christian steadfastly declines to hand it over but relents when Anne forcibly removes it from his clenched hand.

A few days later Anne meets Christian at the museum unexpectedly, and comes on strong about their encounter the other night. She is looking for something more than casual sex, and starts probing him hoping to find a connection. Christian is evasive and later ignores her phone calls when she tries to reach him. In the meantime, a second package has arrived for Christian at the 7/11 store. Being wary of its contents he sends Michael to investigate and take collection. In the store Michael is greeted by a young twelve year old lad who is ranting and raving and making a scene, believing Michael to be Christian. He claims that his parents are furious at him, believing him to be the thief because of the way the letter was written. The boy demands an apology to him and his parents and an explanation of the facts, otherwise the boy will bring 'chaos' down upon him.

The boy eventually tracks down Christian to his apartment block. He repeatedly pesters Christian in front of his two young daughters. Christian at first is reasonable with the young lad, but his patience is wearing thin after the boy persists and then begins knocking on neighbours doors late in the evening and screaming for help. In the end the boy falls down a flight of steps and Christian and his girls go inside the sanctuary of his apartment. But later Christian hears the whimpering sounds of the boys cries for help which eventually after some time, subside. Wracked with guilt Christian goes in search of the note with the boys phone number which he had previously thrown out with the garbage. In the pouring rain, he finally retrieves the note and tries to call, but the phone rings out. Instead he leaves an apologetic video message which becomes a diatribe for all that is wrong in the world.

The Advertising Agency has meanwhile come back with a social media campaign designed to spark controversy and ultimately go viral. They develop a promotional clip showing an impoverished young blond street beggar girl carrying a black kitten who wanders into The Square and is killed by an explosion. The video is released on the museums website and their own YouTube Channel, and in no time gains 300,000 hits and attracts the ire of the museum Board, the Church, the media and the general public. Christian is asked to stand down as Curator of the museum for violating protocol, and in the ensuing press conference is attacked by all sides, however, some more than others.

Later that night at a museum gala dinner attended by Stockholm's wealthiest elite, artists and members of the Board, the live entertainment for the evening takes the form of a human exhibit in the shape of Oleg Rogozjin (Terry Notary channelling his experiences & skills as 'Rocket' on the three recent 'Planet of the Apes' films) who mimics an ape convincingly. Initially what is seen as a highly extroverted if realistic and unique performance by the 400 or so gathered guests quickly turns very messy as Oleg gets too in the zone and becomes quite violent toward a number of guests including famed artist Julian (Dominic West) exhibiting the ugly and physically confronting side of ape behaviour. Ultimately a number of male guests drag Oleg off a female guest and rain down their clenched fists upon him, chanting 'kill him, kill him'.

In the aftermath of all of this Christian enjoys some R&R with his daughters attending the exhibit at the museum, and a cheer leading competition for his oldest daughter. On the way back in the car, Christian asks the girls if they mind him making a detour to see someone. Christian is still feeling guilty about the boy whom he has heard nothing from. So he parks up at the apartment block and with the girls goes in search of the young lad and his family. Talking to a neighbour, Christian is told that he knew the boy, but that he had moved away with his family.

'The Square' is a dark, sometimes disturbing satirical social commentary that exposes plenty that is wrong in the world through the trials and tribulations of one man going about his personal and business life that gets inextricably interwoven, often with funny, gripping and thought provoking consequences. The performances from the principle cast are top notch, although Dominic West's role is no more than a cameo appearance, while Terry Notary as the ape in man's clothing steals the show with a ten minute sequence that is convincing, disturbing and brutal . . . and he doesn't utter a single word! Claes Bang is also on fine form as the Curator having to deal with a maelstrom of misadventures thrust upon him as he lurches from one absurd, comedic and brutally honest situation to another. My criticisms would be that the character played by Elisabeth Moss is not fleshed out anymore, she disappears completely after that awkward exchange at the museum, and BTW, what's with the chimp, and secondly, the films running time. At 142 minutes, the Editor must have taken an extended period of leave, resulting in a film that is easily twenty minutes too long, with scenes dragged out well beyond their use by date, or bearing little consequence to the story therefore being surplus to requirement. Coming away from the theatre, the film also leaves many questions open ended and unanswered, but perhaps this was the Director's intention too. All that said, worth a look for sure.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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