The Square: NZIFF Review
Provocative, confronting, and yet also unexpectedly amusing, the NZIFF's opening night film and the 2017 Palme D'Or winner The Square, from Force Majeure director Ruben Ostlund, is something else.
A satire on social reactions set within an art museum, it follows the museum's director Christian (Claes Bang) as a series of events are set in motion after the theft of his mobile phone. With a new exhibit set to launch, Christian should have his eyes and attention on what's ahead, but is dangerously distracted by the inane.
As events spiral, Ostlund's film teeters dangerously once again on a precipice between commentary on others and our social interactions - and as a result, it offers up some truly astounding moments of awkwardness and the surreal.
There's no denial that the loosest of threads pulls the rest of the film together, and there are moments that make The Square feel like a confrontational series of sketches that very occasionally feel disparate and in danger of breaking off like an iceberg from the main narrative.
It helps little that the film's punishing 140 minute run time becomes a slog in the final hurdle and certainly even though The Square's lost 20 minutes in an edit, a few more cuts could have helped the searing truly soar high above the cinematic stratosphere.
And yet, when Ostlund turns his precise eye to social commentary, there's nothing more piercing.
With Sweden's streets littered with beggars and with cries of Help Me resounding in many of these scenes, there's a humility and an horrific mirror cast upon society and their trivial concerns. The public and the private are meshed and simultaneously ripped apart under his precise directorship.
If Force Majeure's focus was solely on the family and the dynamic post the event, The Square's broader and wider ambitions occasionally threaten to stop it from achieving glory as it loses its edge towards the end.
But on the way in this high wire act, one scene stands alone - a sequence in a high society dinner event for the museum that's terrorised by a performance artist behaving like a gorilla. Simultaneously amusing and utterly terrifying, this moment of Ostlund's film is electrifying. It's here that the societal commentary comes into play and that Ostlund makes you shift uneasily in your seat.
And it's for moments like this, as well as surrealist broad comedy that The Square commands to be seen - it's confrontational, outrageous and it's out of nowhere attitude at times mean it's as unpredictable as it comes. However, in the wash, it may see you asking some serious questions about how we are wanting and examining its commentary on what society reacts to and ignores - it's here The Square's power is compelling.