The Square | Ruben Östlund | NYFF 2017
Swedish director Ruben Östlund examines the world or art exhibits and the values within them, both on the surface and behind close doors in his latest, The Square. It focuses on a hotshot art curator named Christian (Claes Bang), at a Stockholm museum who finds a tough task at marketing the museum new exhibit, “The Square.” It’s a small square built on a light strip that is supposed to be “sanctuary of trust and caring,” or a safe space. It’s ironic that what unfolds for Christian is anything but a safe space.
Similary to Östlund’s much better and fully realized 2014 film Force Majeure, he looks at the idea of altruism and ones ability to find ways to help others and at what point you take a step back to worry about yourself. Things go south for him when he thinks he is helping a woman on the street but in reality a pickpocket steals his wallet, phone and cufflinks. He is able to track his phone to a housing complex in a less than favorable part of town and unleashes a plan to guilt those responsible for the theft to bring his belongings back. The plan does work but soon it unleashes some consequences that seem to steamroll into one giant bad day for Christian.
Östlund has his heart and mind in the right place and raises some interesting questions. He poises them in a series of fascinating and rather intense long scenes that he lets unfold in uncomfortable length as if its an art exhibit of its own. The issue is a lot of these scenes feel rather disjointed from one another with a lack of focus. But there’s no denying the impact of these scenes as they stand on their own, but they just don’t quite mesh as much as they should together as one complete whole.
Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West all all great in their respective roles and have their moments to shine. This is a strange and uncomfortable film that sticks to its guns and runs away with it, poising questions that I am not sure it truly knows the questions to but it leaves that up to the audience to sort it all out. There are a few sequences that will stick with you, lingering on your mind in the many hours and days after you leave the theater.
Not always digestable or laid out for you to make total sense of it all, this is a stricking film that forces you to contemplate what exactly you would do if you were in these characters moral positions and if we have any right to judge them when given the chance, we may not step in or act any better than they did. While I think it raises more questions than it answers, it makes its voice heard passionately enough where it had my attention all the way.