The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

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Brian C
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The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#1 Post by Brian C » Mon Nov 20, 2017 12:29 am

The Square, Ruben Östlund, 2017

For the first two thirds of this film, it was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. And then, at some point, it just wasn't anymore.

I've seen Haneke and Von Trier bandied around as influences on the film, and the former seems more obvious than the latter, but one thing I'll say for those guys is that they know how to follow through on their premises and themes. I'm not sure this movie does that. It spends a lot of time setting up provocations that never really pay off, and the film's resolution is rather astoundingly weak. Characters enter to take provocative stances and then just kinda exit the movie without any consequence to what follows. There are some interestingly surreal moments - whole setpieces, actually - that simply evaporate and end up as little more than non-sequiturs.

And like I said, all this really seems like it's going somewhere, so it's disappointing when it doesn't. Instead of Haneke and Von Trier, the director that it called to mind for me after it was over was actually Richard Kelly, who similarly has a flair for buildup but can't help but back himself into corners. Östlund isn't as crazy with his scenario here as Kelly is with his films, of course, and as stylists they're not very similar, but that feeling of liftoff before a hard letdown was pretty much the same.

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PfR73
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Re: The Films of 2017

#2 Post by PfR73 » Mon Nov 20, 2017 4:24 pm

I concur a lot with that. The Square was a film where I pretty much enjoyed every individual scene but felt like it didn't add up to anything as a whole.

I walked away thinking that it should have been a TV series and not a film, actually giving arcs to the characters & plot points.

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Re: The Films of 2017

#3 Post by aox » Fri Dec 29, 2017 11:09 am

I managed to catch The Square last night and I am not sure what to think. Every scene or sequence was fine, but as a sum of its parts it felt a little disjointed. It had some wonderful dry humor and had a lot of fun with the world it portrays. It gets many things right regarding the stuffy art community (at least in NYC). Claes Bang gives a phenominal performance that was so similar to Marcello Mastroianni in 8 1/2. The Elizabeth Moss scene where she confronts him about their previous sex felt like an updated version of 8 1/2. Something goes very awry to start the third act (very uncomfortable scene) and the film never really recovers in my opinion. In fact, my main criticism is that the film didn't know when to end. I found the final 5-10 minutes grueling and unnecessary.
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I thought it should have ended at his press conference where he announces his resignation and then is badgered for it. It felt like a full circle at that point.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#4 Post by Magic Hate Ball » Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:18 pm

The first two thirds are one of the best things I've ever seen. There was a lot of screaming laughter at my theater, which was a great experience, and the dinner party sequence by itself could be put out there as its own blistering short film. But yeah, the last third is kind of a big nothing, particularly after the extremely satisfying double punchline of Force Majeure. When it got to the last scene I thought, "Oh, this is the ending", which is not what you want your audience to be thinking. It's like if the last third of A Clockwork Orange was about Alex taking part in the prison musical. It needed to build up either to some kind of magnificent catastrophe and/or develop an emotional catharsis, but what we're left with is some kind of wishy-washy "life doesn't have resolution" message, which feels like such a weak cop-out.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#5 Post by hearthesilence » Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:14 pm

Brian C wrote:For the first two thirds of this film, it was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. And then, at some point, it just wasn't anymore.
Magic Hate Ball wrote:The first two thirds are one of the best things I've ever seen.
I forgot which contributor said this (it was one of the males) but in one of the Film Comment podcasts covering Cannes, he basically said the same thing - for the first two thirds, you thought "we have our Palme d'Or winner" (which did happen) but then things took a bad turn.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#6 Post by Magic Hate Ball » Sun Dec 31, 2017 3:47 pm

It's amazing that it can hold so much promise for two wildly spirited hours, and then destroy it entirely within the space of twenty minutes.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#7 Post by swo17 » Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:59 pm

This is apparently only getting a DVD release in the U.S. Pretty sad for a Palme winner.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#8 Post by FrauBlucher » Tue Jan 02, 2018 4:11 pm

Ruben Östlund has a phantom page. Maybe this...

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#9 Post by Brian C » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:06 pm

It’s Magnolia, right? For a long time they’ve seemed like one of the most inept indie distributors out there. It’s like they combine the downsides of both limited indie resources with a big-studio attitude towards their product. As a result, they basically ignore anything that doesn’t have an obvious marketing hook and a lot of their stuff just seems to disappear, from the physical world anyway. I’m semi-surprised I got to see it theatrically, even here in Chicago.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#10 Post by swo17 » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:12 pm

It is.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#11 Post by swo17 » Sun Feb 11, 2018 11:21 pm

So the first two-thirds of this are better than most films I've seen recently. And the last third is...
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also better than most of them? The trick here is how to sell the rather basic, non-flashy message of "be kind, but especially to those you don't want to be kind to." This is the basic plot of the film of course, but I think it's also Östlund's goal with the film itself. What we see of the exhibit "The Square" in the film is almost ludicrously cryptic. We hear the same vague platitude about it over and over again but never really get a sense for how it's meant to convey its meaning. With the film, Östlund ends on a note so subtle that several here have expressed disappointment with it. And perhaps that is some sign of failure in his approach. But I don't think he is being ambiguous or meandering or unsure of how to tie all the threads of his film together. Quite simply, he wanted to sell a tender moment of a father showing his children that compassion for an "other" is important (the fact that the boy's family wasn't there to receive the gesture is beside the point--the art director specifically mentioned earlier in the film that he thought we needed to do things like this more, and here at the end he finally seized the opportunity). But how do you sell a movie about this? With a feature-length buildup of arresting setpieces starring interesting American actors intended to "bring in the masses" in the best way that a Swedish arthouse director can, I guess. (In a way, this does kind of remind me of Richard Kelly, who try as he might to make a picture of mass appeal will never make anything other than a Richard Kelly film.)

Otherwise, I thought the easy line here was going to be that an art director promoting an exhibit about philanthropy would spend the duration of the film mistreating his fellow man. Which of course happens to some extent. But I found it very refreshing and interesting that he was instead allowed to be a recognizably flawed human being with a conscience, generally trying to be a better person some of the time while not particularly caring at other times. This quality gave the ending that much more heft, which it wouldn't have had if this was the one time in the film that he had made a gesture of compassion.

Another angle I appreciated was how the film asks all these questions that are currently very much in the public discourse in the realm of art--What is the responsibility of the artist? Of the audience? What is the place of censorship? Of self-censorship? The film keeps repeating that "The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring; within it we all share equal rights and obligations." But what is The Square? Quadrilaterals are a recurring visual motif in the film, with the two most memorable uses being the cheerleader's performance on the stage toward the end and the film frame itself. In some sense, film should be a sanctuary, yes? Within it, artist and audience should share equal rights and obligations. We the audience should be able to trust the artist not to betray us, and vice versa. But with certain sensitive topics, this results in an endless debate about how far is too far, and at what point the medium ceases to be a sanctuary. The art director can't win when he gets caught up in a scandal--he feels pressured to resign by those offended by certain content, but then must deal at a press conference with those on the other end, who are offended by him not standing his ground and fighting for unfettered artistic license. In the end, he basically rejects this whole world of arguments and counter-arguments (not to mention, of people experiencing life through four-sided screens) to focus more of his time on family and the marginalized. Not that I've read anything to this effect, but in a sense this part of the film almost feels like Östlund's announcement of his own retirement. Let's just hope that's not the case.

Oh, and the scene at the end where the camera tracks the father and his kids ascending the stairwell is just sublime. Bring on the Criterion edition!

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#12 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Feb 12, 2018 1:30 am

Well put, Swo. I’ve been meaning to put down some of my thoughts on this for a while, but haven’t quite been able to even as I continue to turn this film over in my head more than almost any other I saw last year.

I think the key point that you hit on above is
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the transition from carefully cultivated and exquisitely executed set pieces to the less immediately satisfying but more meaningful events in the world outside the hermetic bubble of the art museum. Mileage clearly varies, but while the great comic and dramatic moments in the first 80% of the film work exceptionally well and gain prominence in the memory as noteworthy provocations and riffs on the film’s ideas, it’s the final scenes that give those themes the weight that made The Square stick with me and grow in estimation the last few months.

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Re: The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)

#13 Post by Zot! » Fri May 04, 2018 3:48 am

Finally got around to this. Hmmm...frustrated to a degree with it after coming off the high of Force Majeure, but thinking back on it, I'm still snickering...it's endearing. My frustration stems from the rather well tread premise, and vacant messaging. Another art world luminary struggling with the human condition? Class, wealth, and race? We've seen it all before. The afformentioned 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita...and the recent 8 1/2 "remake", Youth (and I'm sure many others) got there first. But what it reminds me most of is dark humor of The Player and the films of Óstunds Swedish colleague, Roy Andersson. I don't think it achieves those films successes, but neither is it aggressive in it's presentation. Even the showstopping dinner party scene was frustratingly familiar to people who have seen Leos Carax's Merde. I hate to turn everything into a competition, but it's unavoidable with how little it does to avoid comparison.

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