Review / ‘The Square’ (MA) *** and a half

“IF you place an object in a museum does that make this object a piece of art?”

That observation, quoting a very perceptive and challenging screenplay by Swedish writer/director Ruben Ostlund, is but one of several perceptive challenges in a longish (151 minutes) film.

The story revolves around museum curator Christian (Claes Bang) who’s preparing to open the exhibition of a controversial painting by a famous Argentinian woman. The film opens with American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss) trying to persuade Christian to give her a controversial quote.

We don’t see Anne for quite a while after she gives up after only two questions. When she later re-appears, it is to provide yet another of the dramatic jolts peppering the plot, followed by a steamy bedroom scene. In the intervening passages, Christian confronts two journos offering suggestions about influencing the exhibition’s impact. Nobody foresees an outcome that will disrupt public opinion and set the project on a course that not even Christian’s skill as a manipulator of important moments can resolve.

Does this portend a sombre movie aimed at an audience that perceives itself as more culturally-educated than most? It turns out to be very funny, sprinkled with strong drama and a healthy dose of unorthodoxy. Typifying that mixture is a substantial sequence taking the mickey out of social elites everywhere. Performer Oleg (Terry Notary) disrupts a black-tie dinner intended to reveal the painting before the rest of the public gets that pleasure. Embarrassed hilarity gives way to concern and then to comprehension of why it is so.

Thinking about Oleg’s screen time most of all confirms a growing sense of watching a message movie setting out to display a broad canvas of social, cultural, political and human issues and by and large succeeding.

At Palace Electric and Dendy


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