The fifth and final film from Big Tuna’s February challenge was The Square (2017). It was the longest on the list, and I couldn’t have watched it at a worse time; I’d just gotten my new phone. Films require 100% of my attention in order to write a well-articulated review…and a foreign film requires even more, as I just read the dialogue to keep up with the story. Add in a slightly surreal satire, and I was left with many questions that I think could either be intentional by filmmaker Ruben Östlund, or at the fault of my split attention.
The Square didn’t get my whole attention, but it still won me over.
The movie focuses on Christian (Claes Bang), the Stockholm museum’s chief art curator, who finds himself in both personal and professional chaos in the weeks leading to the museum’s newest exhibit. This exhibit features a square on the ground and a statement that essentially says if people in the shape ask for help it should be given to them. Much of the film depicts people not helping people, and much of the chaos that arises stems from either the inaction or action of helping others.
There is definitely something similar in tone with this film to The Lobster, as some elements are extremely dark yet have an air of comedy. For example, there is a moment in the film at an art installation that has a man pretending to be an ape during a fancy museum dinner. It starts out kind of silly and impressive, but turns much darker over the course of several minutes. Oleg (Terry Notary), the man-ape, approaches another artist named Julian (Dominic West), and their encounter is really where the scene starts to turn. The moment lingers at times, allowing the audience to feel the discomfort that the people in the room are clearly experiencing.
Bang does an excellent with this film. He is tasked with a lot and delivers. Early in the film, Christian’s phone and wallet are stolen, and he is encouraged to seek vigilante justice in the way of a stern letter. He co-writes a threatening letter demanding his belongings be dropped off at a gas station near the suspect’s apartment building, and drops them in the letterbox of each apartment. This action has many ripple effects that play throughout the course of the film, and presents some of the film’s major themes about fame and its effects on a person’s behavior.
Despite not giving the film the attention it definitely deserves, I certainly walked away feeling positive about it. There is undoubtedly something here that appeals to my sensibilities, and I will likely try and give it a rewatch. However, it’s quite long, which may prevent me from trying again anytime soon. As of now, The Square earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.