Director: Ruben Ostlund
Starring: Claes Bang
I have never seen a film quite like The Square, and perhaps that feeling is bolstered by how little I was prepared for it. I knew it was a talked-about foreign film, I heard Elizabeth Moss’s name, and I saw that it was 140 minutes long, and so I guess I made a bunch of assumptions that held me back from making it a priority on my list. But what I didn’t know turned out to be so much more important. I didn’t know that this was Ostlund’s next feature after the excellent Force Majeure, I didn’t know that Moss and every other actor were merely supporting, and I didn’t know that the story would be the exact level of bonkers that I’ve been enjoying all year, from Mother! to Sacred Deer, another in a delightful trend of wacky movies that make remarkable points through their pure, enriched intensity.
Christian, the curator of a Swedish contemporary art museum, is coming face to face with decisions of character and of direction that will completely alter his personality and his path. A controversial new exhibit is coming to the museum, the Square, a place of empathy and helpfulness by advertisement, but also a stunning juxtaposition to the world outside its small borders. This exhibit acts as a catalyst, but the events in Christian’s personal life reflect the battle going on within each of us. His wallet is stolen; how will he react. He sleeps with a journalist; how will he treat her. He gives to a beggar; how far will he go. The bizarre events of the film are as unpredictable as they are hilarious, but they have a darker side as well, one that we typically don’t choose to see.
Set against a backdrop of the kind of art that is often seen but rarely appreciated, the plot takes on a similar quality; every day conversation and awkward moments that are part of our typical lives but that aren’t often shown on screen. These more mundane pieces of reality are mixed in with the more insane experiences in a person’s life, creating a timeline for Christian that is a mix between boring and completely unexpected. Thrown in, seemingly at random, is one of the most captivating movie moments of the year, the Monkey Man, and what he signifies might be the strongest message the film has to offer. Prepare yourself for something strange, but also something strangely important.
This is one of those movies that the more I think about the more I like, that I want to revisit again to enjoy, but that I also want others to see so I can tell if I’ve gone insane or if it actually is that good. I’m relieved that it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar; maybe I’m not that original after all, maybe everyone recognizes that The Square may be tremendously weird but that it is also simply tremendous. Partly in Swedish, partly in English, it’s a roller coaster ride of physical sensations and existential musings, an uncomfortable plot that’s funny because it’s true. Bang plays Christian to perfection, other characters swirling around him as he sinks deeper into the whirlpool of his conscience, and in the end you completely understand what he just went through because you went through it right alongside him.
It’s a film that needs to be labelled as “not for everyone” if ever a film did, not because of content exactly, perhaps because of its lack of content instead. There is a story, there are reasons to view from point A to point B, but mixed in are some of the most radical scenes you’ll see this season, unpredictable happenings that take the movie to another, existential level. The plot slides along, but the people Christian meets become as important as his actions, and it’s the way they weave into his narrative that gives the movie its mood and its humor. Because The Square is a funny film, it’s hilarious at times, but often uncomfortably so. The entire experience is uncanny and unconventional, but that’s exactly what makes it great.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (Widescreen) and shot using an Arri Alexa XT camera with Zeiss Master Prime lenses, the video quality of the DVD is quite nice, without being so impressive that you’ll want to buy simply for the visual excellence. The cinematography is stunning, based heavily on art and architecture, instead of the conventional landscapes and sunsets.
Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, with subtitle choices in English, English SDH, or Spanish. The film is Swedish and so that language is spoken throughout, with subtitles for American audiences, but it also switches to English quite often. The duel languages work well, the sound quality holds its own, and so the audio won’t disappoint.
Extras – There are a few special features on the DVD, if you’re looking for a bit more from this story. Behind the Monkey Man Scene is a 12-minute look at the iconic moment. Casting Tapes are available to view from many of the cast members. A Behind-the-scenes Photo Gallery can be accessed here. And there are many previews as a bonus, including a theatrical trailer for the film and a look at other Magnolia features.
Highly Recommended. This recommendation comes with some hesitance, not because I am unsure of my own opinion of the film, but because it’s extremely hard to guess how other audiences might react. As I said before, there isn’t a ton of mature content, the story is not so out there that I need to warn people away, it’s not five hours of paint splatters and sad faces. It’s simply a higher level of expression circling around a plot that’s wacky at its core, without too many standard American elements, which always make us feel a little better. The video is very nice, the audio holds its own, there are some extras on the disc; you won’t be let down hard by the technical aspects. But if you are to be sucked in, it will be by the absurdity and the audacity on display, not by any one feature that you can point to. So come for a unique viewing; stay because it’s a success.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay