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18th Hall of Fame
The
Square

2017





Is it hip to be Square?
‘The Square’ is the title of the film, but it is also the newest art exhibition at the X-Royal Museum, which makes an effort to provoke people into acts of kindness or compassion inside a direct-opposite modern society. The story taking place in the cinematic ‘Square’ definitely reflects that of the exhibition ‘Square’, which is a fun and thought-provoking parallel and further enforces the saying that film is art and further the fact that ‘The Square’ definitely tries to reflect art itself. Life imitates art… but art also imitates life.

‘The Square’ is a lot like artwork indeed, where the film comes with more questions than answers and demands that the audience engages in the conversation about the issues it presents to us. It would rather want to embark on a quest to display and party examine – but without fully answering – the many social subjects and personal problems it puts in front of us. Like art it provokes, it stimulates, and it stabs at our mind with its razor-sharp satirical view on society and human behavior. So, like the exhibition says, you are also responsible for turning ‘The Square’ into something special, which then transcends its movie form.

Without your partaking, ‘The Square’ is either just one single frame – or twenty-four of them – with interesting people and exciting situations, thought, feelings and debates within – but missing the important element of participation, commitment and counteraction. You know what I like more than when a film brings up a great subject and then closely dissects it? When a film brings up a great subject and don’t. Being given the subject, but not the whole discussion or its conclusion, is the greatest gift in cinema. Nobody wants to be spoon-fed information, opinions and answers. The scale of presenting questions, discussing answers and coming to conclusions varies a lot from film to film. ‘The Square’ is one of those that stays mostly in the beginning of the scale, compared to the norm.Some people don’t like that. I do.

Director Ruben Östlund thinks outside the box in ‘The Square’, when it comes to storytelling, structure and stating facts, fiction and finding a clear way through it all. The movie is very much alive, and nothing is too small or too big nor too politically or morally (in)correct to be talked about here…

Christian’s story
The film opens with our main character, Christian, in an interview situation, sitting in the finest clothing in the cleanest room – not at all looking like the man he was just moments ago – waking up on a sofa next to yesterday’s leftover food. YOU HAVE NOTHING a sign claims behind him, part of the art attraction he is sitting in. But it also kind of reflects the story of our main character, which is about to unfold. He is a wealthy man, who dresses dapper and drives an elegant, eco-friendly electric car. But without basic humanistic values, all that is just empty nothingness and ‘The Square’ is partly a journey for Christian to come to realize that. He gets his phone and wallet stolen trying to help people seemingly in need. That said, he mostly assisted because of another person taking the initiative.

When he comes home, the fact of the matter takes a backseat to the almost farce-like approach to turning the story of the stolen belongings into amusement for others and later admiration for how technology has evolved over the years – talking about the problem rather than solving it and following the stolen items on a GPS-tracking screen is apparently more interesting than doing something about it or going to the police. There is just this whole absurdity of the situation not really being handled like a situation, which I find very funny. When they finally do decide to do something about it, they once again avoid confrontation or rational thinking by slipping a threatening letter down the mailbox of several innocent civilians, who also happens to be living in a poor part of town.

Christians story evolves in interesting ways from here, further enforcing his embarrassingly pathetic persona. Like when he receives money from scared, innocent victims of his letter, which he then gives to a homeless lady. He is a wealthy man, but thinks he does a good deed handing over money that isn’t his from a situation he himself caused. And the whole paradoxical thing about him “confronting” problems caused to him, but not confronting those caused by him, like later in the film, when this whole situation comes back to bite him. Only when the problem is literally on his doorstep and in his eyesight, he takes action or at least “tries” to. When he realizes what he has done and wants to call the boy and handle the situation, he goes through tons of garbage in his finest suit to find the letter he threw out with the phone number on it.

He confesses to the phone in a video message, which is still cowardly one could say, and furthermore he actually turns some admirable personal confession into political stuff at one point – backtracking a bit, saying one thing or act cannot chance the world, yet he handed out a ton of money (that wasn’t even his) to just one homeless earlier on and even asked a homeless man to help him look after his expensive bags of designer clothes, while he didn’t have a dime for that same homeless, when he was confronted just a minute before that. He definitely comes off as a hypocritical individual but that is the fact for many people and parts of society, especially the life he lives.

At a press conference, Christian decides to step down as curator of the museum because of a graphic, morally wrong video showing a little beggar girl being blown to pieces. That very same video he earlier commented on, saying they can’t censor themselves like that and they have to stand up for what they present and represent. Now he does the exact opposite. The storyline of his family doesn’t take up much time and some deems it unnecessary or incomplete. I kind of like the fact that it is so much a background thing, because it just reflects Christians situation. He doesn’t listen to or take care of his daughters, but in the end, he finally goes to a dancing tournament with them, which is their passion – this gets hinted at earlier on, when the girls arrive in dancing clothes to his apartment. Dressed in very loose and casual Sunday clothes, Christian then goes to the apartment building to apologize and do like he should have from the beginning…

Two scenes
There is a scene, where an intense discussion is going on between Christian and a woman, who he slept with one drunk night, in which you can constantly hear the creaking sounds of an art installation of chairs in the background. The scene has many layers, one of which is the general absurdity and awkwardness of the confrontation, in which Christian is asked to recall and retell the events of the night, while the prejudice and predominance of her approach and intention really gives you uncomfortable vibes. The background noise fits very well with the conversation going on, being just as annoying and repetitive, but also adds a tempo and follows the tension of the scene closely, coming to a climax at certain point, which also fits with what is being said in the conversion; like when he finally says “we had sex” the chairs comes crashing down. She really wants him to remember the night and think of her than more than “just another girl”. She continuously tries to bring him down and make him look dumb, saying he is only ****ing women for fun and how she isn’t a power-hungry hoe, yet when he comments on her looks and compliments her, she feels flattered and doesn’t stand by her own word.

Another great scene and one of the best scenes in any film that year, is the dinner scene with the ape man. Having a person portray the dawn of man and pursue the animalistic instincts in an environment that is the total opposite of that. The evolution of man in each end of the spectrum, creating an intriguing contrast on behavior and intelligence, but also just a fun one visually, with the bare-chested “crazy person” in the midst of the wealthy, prestigious faces at their fancy dinner party. How far can you go for the sake of art? When does a thing stop being art? When do you know? People are just sitting there, not sure whether it is all an act. It is a passive, hopeless, helpless lifetime we live in. But this “act” does bring out who we really are, separating the cowards from the heroes. One guy runs away, leaving his wife behind, another guy goes in to confront the “beast”, as the only one doing so at first, soon after seeing the husband/boyfriend of the woman being attacked also stepping in – but not being able to be the one to take that first step. Slowly but rapidly so after this, the rest of the crowd begins to step in. The whole scene is so uncomfortable and elegantly done.

There is also the whole comment on the art scene and also how one handles and respects art. Take for example, the two dumb men who wants to find a way of promoting “the square”, which can get people’s attention. But what they end up creating is rather attention for attention but without reason, since the latter disappears in the provocative imagery and conflicting reactions to the video. These two also represents youth in general and the whole social media nonsense and how so-called “business” people rarely even cares about the business they are in. On the way to present their idea, they rather want to make sure their hair looks good; focusing on the way they present themselves rather than the presentation itself. They also do rock, paper, scissors on who should do the talking, making it all seem less like passion and more like an obligation… less like interest and more like invest. I also loved how someone in the meeting mentioned “the ice bucket challenge” and when someone asked what it was about, they didn’t even know – the advertisement outshines what it actually advertises.

‘The Square’ talks about more than it can fit inside its four walls and more than I can fit in this review. I don’t know how to end this review and clearly Östlund had the same problem because his film is indeed too long. Maybe the same can be said about this review also. Well, art imitates art, I guess...


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