In a story depicted in oil painted animation, a young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist's final letter and ends up investigating his final days there.
Christian is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is "The Square", an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian's foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations. Meanwhile, the museum's PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for "The Square". The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis.
A strange, uncomfortable and fascinating look at society
This is a hard film to describe and an even harder film to review but I'm going to try my best to express how I felt about it.
In an attempt to put it simply, The Square follows a modern art museum curator named Christian (played by Claes Bang), and some increasingly strange experiences which shape his views and understandings of the world he lives in and the people around him.
I had the chance to see this film on opening night at the New Zealand International Film Festival, and I am so glad I did. The Square plays like an increasingly bizarre farce, and while the film is indeed very funny (sometimes in shocking ways) it provides a consistently fascinating look at our behavior as people in society. Now I realize that isn't necessarily innovative for a film in 2017, but that said, The Square dares to pose increasingly uncomfortable questions to its audience.
From the inherent narcissism of even the most ordinary of people, to the shallowness of popular culture, to the complex behaviors and interactions between people of disparate backgrounds. Again, these ideas are not necessarily novel, but the film presents them in a way that is consistently entertaining - even when certain exchanges on- screen are uncomfortable. There is a scene that takes place at a gathering of elite artists and sponsors that is as squirm-inducing as anything I've seen all year. I also must point out the constant use of dead-pan humor with verbal and visual gags throughout as one of the film's secret weapons.
I would warn that this is not a film for everyone. The pacing is uneven, the structure is unusual, and there isn't a whole lot of forward momentum to propel the film forward. But, if you are willing to meet the film halfway, I think you're in for a fascinating, shocking, hilarious and uncomfortable (skewered) mirror into the society we live in.
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