At the opening of The Square movie, an interview with the director of a museum confronts him with a completely incomprehensible declaration of intent for a contemporary art exhibition hosted by his establishment. Fat and abstruse jargon, playing inversion and detours to ultimately say nothing, all the essence of what one can blame for contemporary art is targeted in a few minutes.
The Square movie critic
The prey is easy, satire served on a silver platter. Yet, come to think of it, this game with multiple interpretations is a boomerang that The Square will, on several occasions, risk getting caught in the face. Some will accuse him of anti-intellectual Poujadism, others of snobbish proposing a work which despises its subject, even the spectators themselves.
It must be said that dizziness is constant, and that the universe described seems to be under the aegis of a permanent happening. Whether you unscrew the equestrian statue without controlling its trajectory or cry out for help the better to steal a wallet, everything is double-edged. As such, the repetition of the speech by the director is revealing: he programs in advance the fact of interrupting a written speech to break the solemn coldness and thus seduce his audience (which will be castigated, in a very funny scene to rush to the buffet). It will be the same with the absurd idea of the young generation in terms of buzz to campaign for the next artistic event: to surprise and arouse desire is a finality, the purpose supposed to follow being simply concealed.
The satire thus combines all layers: on an urban scale, the city is not a parade of tramps in counterpoint to the mundaneities of hype arty, the performances slip away just like the coit of an evening: the figure of the monkey, central , contaminates the private sphere as much as the gala dinner, in sequences whose length is a pledge of perverse cruelty.
If The Square movie also often wins support, it is because it doubles its satire with an undeniable formal mastery, particularly in its apprehension of space, architecture and a sense of the frame which accentuates the status of victim given to characters who illusorously think they control their trajectories.
Because this is the sadistic game of the director, who already undermined the figure of the father of the family (with much less talent and more heaviness) in Snow Therapy: forcing his characters, in absurd situations, to always do good figure. This tension in the face of political correctness, in the face of the baby in meetings, the participant suffering from Tourette’s syndrome, or even the social divide will allow the expected breaking point, greeted by a rather enjoyable “Don’t play it Swedish!” “Fascist tendency on the one hand, punk liberation on the other (the monkey, therefore, but also a possessive relationship to the condom after love) and, in the middle, the posture of art. Ruben Östlund sends back to back these different routes, none of which is particularly effective, which, it is true, is a bit easy.
You can’t help but think over and over again of Toni Erdmann and the way he rocked the Croisette last year. The fact, moreover, that Maren Ade is on the jury which awarded the Palme d’Or to this film can be understood as revenge in the face of the ignorance that she herself had to face in the 2016 winners. But the comparison stops above all at the capacity of the few scenes to arouse hilarity or intense unease. Because German comedy had the merit of constructing less archetypal and more complex characters, and of getting less lost in a demonstrative speech.
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The Square movie is thus bogged down in its last hour by excess of zeal: irrelevant sub-plots (the arrival of the daughters of the main character is quite dispensable), stretching in length of certain confrontations, which should increase the tension turns at the slightly sluggish dilution.
The sadism of a filmmaker with his characters, in the tradition of the heaviness of an Asghar Farhadi, made many emulators on the Croisette in 2017, from Lanthimos to Haneke via Loznitsa, and let’s face it, rarely for the best . We really regret this didactic one-upmanship which finds precisely everything that made the blunders of Snow Therapy, abandoning the initial laughter in favor of a grueling moral lesson.
It’s a shame, and we can guarantee that the Palme d’Or, quite excessive, but defensible in that it also rewards irreverence and comedy (a prize, or even Grand Prix du jury would have been perfect) will probably to reinforce the director in this direction.
The boomerang’s return is therefore inevitable: Östlund has not yet understood that dodging can also be achieved through the subtlety of purity and silence.
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