Wednesday, October 4, 2017

NYFF Spotlight: The Square

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 15th.

The Square
Directed by Ruben Östlund
NYFF Screenings

Filmmakers sometimes develop tendencies which make each of their works recognizable, endearing to some and infuriating to others. Token themes and styles can be honed in just one memorable film, and that can propel a director to success in his or her next project. “Force Majeure,” which follows the aftermath of a father and husband choosing to grab his phone and keys and run away when he thought death was imminent rather than protect his wife or children, deals with a seemingly minor life moment and its reverberating implications. That simpler family dramedy has now been expanded into something altogether grander with Ruben Östlund’s follow-up feature.

Christian (Claes Bang) is a curator at a Swedish art museum preparing to launch a new exhibit, a square in which everything within it is meant to be equal. One morning on his way to work, Christian, with the aid of a man he does not know, protects a woman running for help from another man, only to discover that his wallet and phone have been stolen. Able to trace the phone to a building but not to a specific apartment, Christian leaves a note demanding that the thief return his possessions in every mailbox. While he waits to see what will happen, Christian must deal with the unintended public relations consequences of both his work and his personal life.

Christian is a likeable protagonist, a successful man with a great career and two daughters who spend some of their time with him. Though he might have a more high-powered job than many viewers, he’s relatable, and the situation in which he finds himself could happen to anyone. And what he does as he tries to get his life back to normal, eager to regain his personal possessions, also feels genuine. Additional obstacles include a problematic live-performance exhibit that goes incredibly awry and an American journalist (Elisabeth Moss) who gets too attached after a one-night stand.

The appeal of this film, aside from its uncomfortably entertaining nature, is the social commentary it offers about being a good person and about treating others well. Just like “Force Majeure,” this film isn’t an altogether pleasant or focused experience, and not all the questions and ideas it raises are answered or even addressed, which proves frustrating. Bang is great, and Moss is particularly memorable in a lamentably small part. This film, which took home the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is polarizing, as it means to be, and it’s a laborious journey that spans a staggering two and a half hours. If nothing else, this film accomplishes what it wants to: showcasing life as it sometimes happens, which isn’t always fun or affirming.


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