Following the examples set by Gillian Robespierre (Landline) and Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049), Ruben Östlund continues the year-long trend of formerly infuriating filmmakers turning promising corners with their latest features.
In his Palme d’Or-winning The Square, the Swedish writer/director proves far better at satirizing the art world and its inhabitants than masculinity — or whatever the intended target was in the overpraised endurance test known as Force Majeure.
As with that dude, the figure in Östlund’s crosshairs this time is another confident male: Christian (Claes Bang), the fashion-forward curator of a trendy Swedish art museum.
Initially the calm, confident eye in a hurricane of pretentious conversations, colleagues with questionable quirks and gallery visitors whose behavior falls short of the staff’s expectations and those of society at large, Christian has his sights set on the opening of the titular installation, which places an emphasis on trust in humanity.
Between shots of equally sized conical mounds of dirt being passed off as fine art and the gallery’s other odd inclusions — part of the film’s overall commitment to stunning, meticulous framing — Östlund steps outside its walls with biting commentary on the homeless and the more well-to-do population’s tendency to ignore them.
Once Christian falls victim to an amusingly intricate crime, these themes converge through comic instances when he turns to his fellow man for aid and receives sadly expected treatment, as well as a response to his wronging that’s incompatible with the values he aims to promote through the gallery’s offerings.
Accessibly vulnerable beneath Christian’s hip public persona, Bang excels at carrying the film and is assisted through memorable supporting turns by Elisabeth Moss’ journalist and Dominic West’s brief appearances as a famous visiting artist.
Sure to leave a longer lasting impression, however, is rising motion-capture star Terry Notary, whose experiences on the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy and Kong: Skull Island are put to use in an extraordinarily tense scene.
But while The Square marks a significant improvement over Force Majeure, some of that work’s less flattering qualities crop up in its follow-up. Multiple scenes test one’s patience after accomplishing their goals, and though they and the extraneous involvement of Christian’s two preteen daughters trigger flashbacks to Östlund’s previous misfire, these unwelcome reminders are thankfully few.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Magnolia Pictures)