Wednesday, February 28, 2018
OSCARS 2018: The Square (2017)
The Square,” what movie am I talking about? Am I referring to the underseen and underrated Australian thriller from 2008? Am I talking about the 2013 Egyptian documentary, which was also nominated for an Oscar back in 2014? Am I referring to at least two other documentaries that exist with the same name? Or am I discussing the 2017 Swedish film that is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars? In this case, I'm discussing the latter most movie. Gee, who would've thought that a square, perhaps the simplest shape anyone could draw, would inspire so many filmmakers?
This particular “Square” is set at the X-Royal art museum in Stockholm, housed within the former Royal Palace. The film follows Christian, the museum's troubled curator. Christian does not have an easy job. He struggles to find ways to keep the museum's artwork relevant in a fast paced, ADHD-afflicted world. He struggles as a single father to two rambunctious young girls. His sex life and the egotistic artists he deals with are also sources of frustration. Mostly, the museum's latest star attraction is what's causing him the most grief. A simple square painted onto the ground, the artist set out to make a symbol of altruism and giving. The advertising company the museum hired produced a sensationalist YouTube video that has become a meme, attracting attention and controversy to the museum.
Pretty much any movie about art or a museum has to tackle the same concept: What role does art play in our modern lives? “The Square” deals with this too, though it ties in with the movie's comedic instincts as well. The main plot, of the museum trying to sell abstract art to the world, directly grapples with this. The weird, quiet art displays are outright compared with other displays, like the flashy cheerleader competition Christian's daughters run through. There's also the question of what the boundaries of art are. By seeing stuff like piles of dirt or chairs presented as art, the audience questions what art even is. “The Square” also questions the limits of art. In a key scene, a shirtless performance artist walks through a dining room and acts like a wild chimpanzee. Eventually, the act gets violent. It's a darkly hilarious and unforgettable scene, inspired by a real stunt and starring one of the performers from the modern “Planet of the Apes” series.
Much of “The Square's” humor comes from its great lead performance. Claes Bang effortlessly switches back and forth between English and Swedish, showing nary an accent. Christian is a man constantly thrust into awkward situations. Whether its his daughters slamming a door, a poor kid confronting him, a tense press conference, or an awkward post-sex conversation with an ill-advised hook-up, Christian responses with stuttering, self-deflating clumsiness. Bang is hilarious in the part. Elisabeth Moss also appears the journalist Bang's sleeps with. Aside from the surprisingly frank and genuinely erotic sex scene, Moss shows a lot of fine comedic talent in her handful of scenes.