As a requirement of being in AP Art History during my senior year of high school, I was required to attend a field trip to the SF museum of modern art. It was…an interesting trip to say he least. You could not have found someone less enamored with the “art” than I was. I mean, the museum had three blank canvases on a blank wall and called it art. Someone paid money to an artist to have that done! Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the Matisse exhibit that would have been the worst time I had on a field trip ever.
I give you that story to let you know that The Square, however, managed to do something miraculous; it made m engage with modern art in a way I never would have. I still think many of things I saw at the MOMA and some of the art displayed in this are silly, but Ruben Ostlund’s way of framing the conversations around art and tying them together with the issues of the common folk was really fascinating. Though the movie’s length works against it and it’s abrasiveness forces you back, it is genuinely one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen.
Christian (Claes Bang, who is wonderful here) is the successful curator of a modern art museum whose life seems to be golden ahead of the launch of a new installation. Having hired a PR firm to help him launch that exhibit to the public, he’s about to face one of the most challenging and difficult times of his life.
Ostlund spoke about the fact that he wanted to make a film about social contracts and what happens when they are broken. He uses this to pump a lot of the humor in the film, such as when a man with Tourette’s interrupts a press conference played with a famous artist (Dominic West) or when a homeless women demands a particular sandwich from Christian. Additionally, There’s all sorts of fun power dynamics at play from Christian’s ability to greenlight new projects, his dalliance with an American journalist (played by Elisabeth Moss), and his lack of sympathy at what his letter regarding his missing phone wroght.
In many ways, I believe the film taps into our relationship with art. There’s a certain type of power that an audince has and that the way in which we talk about things. Whether I was cringing or guffawing, The Square pretty effectively weaves it’s themes and it’s narrative together without it being forced. That’s a tall task for a movie of this nature, to be as compelling with the minutae of Christian’s life and the grander statements about how media and the attention it brings affects how we view art. Ostlund and company really combined together for something quite enjoyable and revelatory.