By Bartosz Szarek (Nowy Sącz, Poland)
You Have Nothing?
With the film Force Majeure (2014), laureate of the review Un Certain Regard of Cannes Festival in 2014, Ruben Östlund proved his great technical proficiency in presenting weaknesses of modern society, burying banality of everyday life under the terror and nonsense avalanche, and the film itself became international blockbuster. The Square (2017) director-screenwriter penetrates known from the Play (2011) curved regions of political correctness and social phobias, putting at risk both freedom of speech and limits of artistic manifests as well as great businesses and fake PR actions.
Despite evident author’s signature, which Östlund marks his films, seeking stagnation in his production is pointless. The Square is more ambitious and original project than his previous achievements. The director abandons psychodrama convention, sociological parabola addressing superficiality of family happiness enclosed in luxurious ski resort in the French Alps, in which the plot of his latest movie occurs, in favour of the airtight world of the contemporary art.
Christian Nielsen is the central figure of The Square (Claes Bang), Rupert Everett prestigious Museum of Contemporary Art in Stockholm. He is a divorced father of two children and he is too “cool” to show enthusiasm for no good reason. He likes expensive cars, rough parties and quick affairs. As a curator in a museum he seems to be qualified, he uses verbal dodges rescuing himself with indirect and evasive answers. When a young American journalist (Elisabeth Moss) is interviewing him, during the conversation she asks Christian to explain the message behind the museum installation, he struggles with statements, he is imprecise and his reasoning is inconclusive. Ultimately, he has quite a problem with making a satisfying statement. But as a director-businessman, an authority, a figure with ideal social status, it is a genuine master of charisma. Till the moment when the protagonist became the victim of theft, he loses his phone and wallet.
The Square is a piece of work, which certainly will suit fans’ taste of both Michael Haneke and Roy Andersson. Insofar, the plot of the Force Majeure focused on the act of cowardice, actions of Christian are characterized by bravery, very conservative but still. Coldness and surgical precision with which Östlund depicts portrayal of the protagonist are the scenes enviable and regrettable at the same time, but always dynamic and unpredictable, as well as sprinkled with intelligent humour. Let us not forget, however, that the presented world is the world of Ruben Östlund, with his zoo and his monkeys without winners or losers, but there are characters such as Christian, who is finally left with nothing. Almost nothing…
Ludicrous tragicomedy strengthens satirical meaning of the film, which aims at social conventions. Surrealistic shock aesthetics regarding characteristic of Buñuel provenance is demonstrated in a number of events, especially in the fundamental for The Square sequence of artistic performances with Terry Notary as a boldly sociable monkey among elite. In addition, bluebeard boss of the marketing people and his new-born “child-gadget”, a conference of some artist torpedoed effectively by the viewer with Tourette syndrome, journalist Anne and her chimp roommate, impassive museum installations and its bland titles (“Mirrors and Piles of Gravel”), finally “art enthusiasts” and its patrons, more interested in a free buffet rather than an artistic manifest…
Östlund with The Square carries on a dispute with a viewer concerning boundaries of tolerance, empathy and humanism, where “the square” should not be perceived as the noble idea responsible for installation of contemporary art museum contrived by the artist and sold by the public relations viral staff, but the experiment taking place in the Christian’s brain, which result provides valuable information about the protagonist and about us ambiguously.