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Cannes Festival Winner: The Square an Elegant Satire

Directed by Ruben Ostlund, The Square is 2017 Cannes Film Festival – Winner: Palme d’Or. The movie follows Christian, played dynamically and heartfelt by Claes Bang, who is the esteemed curator of a contemporary art museum. He is a divorced but devoted father of two girls and drives an electric car. He also supports good causes but there is an edge to him. His actions at times contradict his devotion. For example, he turns away homeless people or refuses to help a boy who is falsely in trouble with his parent’s cause by Christian’s attempt to recover his stolen wallet and cellphone. In all, the movie is a satire and a drama pointing out flaws of society’s inability to help and trust each other.

Christian’s next show at the museum is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals. Ostlund points out in a recent media statement, “…The Square is a drama/satire. I wanted to make an elegant movie, with visual and rhetorical devices to provoke and entertain viewers. Thematically the film moves between topics such as responsibility and trust, rich and poor, power and powerlessness. The growing beliefs in the individual and the declining beliefs in the community. The distrust of the state, in media and in art.”

Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations that are a bit drawn out for my tastes, but I understand the director’s point. Bang takes this role and owns it. He conveys the push and pulls off what he wants to do and what he should do.

Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for “The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis. I question the crisis in the story because the PR agency generates enough free publicity and social media trends that the art piece and museum will flourish.

Elisabeth Moss of The Handmaid’s Tale has a supporting role in the movie where she and Bang play off each other brilliantly and it is fun to watch. Her comedic timing cinches the point it is a satire. It is obvious why Moss’ career is taking off like a rocket in the stars. She is just too fun to watch.

So much happens in this movie and there are moments where my shadow of disbelief lifts because of the crazy situations like a man being an ape as an art piece. Silly.  I am sure some will find it funny, which make this movie so good.

The DVD comes with some bonus features like the trailer and casting clips, disappointingly Moss’ casting clip is not in the bunch.

The movie’s title comes from the name of a project that was first exhibited in the fall of 2014 at the Vandalorum Museum in the South of Sweden. The exhibition representing the ideal of consensus that should govern society as a whole for the greater good. The project became a permanent installation on the city of Värnamo’s central square. If someone is standing in Värnamo’s led-light version of a square, it is one’s duty to act and react if one needs help.

The movie is in Swedish with English and Spanish subtitles, though English is sometimes spoken in certain scenes. Hopefully, viewers leave the movie with a more understanding of how help is important and one should trust others more so there will be peace on Earth.