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Terry Notary as "Oleg" in "The Square."
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The concept of art can mean literally anything. Putting a purse in a corner at an art gallery turns it into an art piece that has spectators deliberating about late capitalism for weeks on end. Any object with the connotation of art can be boosted higher with a more substantial presence if it is labeled as “art.” Art curators know there’s no one true stance on art and hide behind their pieces as to never be proved wrong — artistic ego-trips.

Satirical jabs at those that inhabit the art world are easy. Mention their level of pretension and crutch of wealth over proper intelligence to easily get a laugh. Writer-director Ruben Östlund realizes this and he goes beyond the easy jabs to deliver the year’s best comedy in The Square. A comedy that doesn’t easily unlock for audiences and bodyslams the petty hierarchy of the art world.

Christian (Claes Bang) is the curator of a Stockholm art museum. In between bedding nameless women, including Elisabeth Moss’s character, Anne, he’s launching new borderline comical art installations — piles of ashes with a neon sign signifying that “we are nothing” and titular Square. The Square is a new exhibition centered around a strip of light displayed in the shape of a square outside the museum with the statement that it is a “sanctuary of trust and caring” and “within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.”

Christian has to balance his fragile status among new controversy he gets thrown in when advertising for The Square goes violently wrong.

Östlund brilliantly writes the character of Christian as one that knowingly sells his audience bullshit and continues to profit off of their desire to feel cultured and superior over the beggars that flood Stockholm. Elisabeth Moss’s character quickly checks his power-hungry facade in an excellent dialogue exchange.

What separates The Square from the limitless films that previously poked fun at the bourgeoisie sensibilities is the character building that Östlund projects as a form of satirist that isn’t entirely on the nose. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise is another obvious influence here, but utilized in the film’s focus and not in its presentation. The iconic upper-class films from Whit Stillman are filled to the brim with absurdly high-class naval gazing that has become his stitch for over two decades, but Östlund takes a different route.

A cleaner at the museum accidentally runs over the previously mentioned piles of ashes with a vacuum and when Christian finds out about it, he says to grab the piles of ash out of the garbage and put it back because who would notice?

Successful satirical humor is hard, but Östlund gets it.

Elisabeth Moss as "Anne" and Claes Bang as "Christian" in "The Square." (TriArt Film)

The “bystander effect” is when an individual hopes to blend into a crowd instead of helping someone in need, as they are social psychologically wired to hope someone else will help them, but if they are alone, they are more accustom to helping said person. This actually happens in each act of The Square with varying results.

Altruism isn’t something individuals in the art world are accustom to. Donating tens of thousands of dollars to an art museum, but the idea of giving a beggar on the street a dollar is enough to make them squirm out of their tailored garments. Above all,The Square is a story of how the lines between the haves and the have-nots can be easily disjointed with enough pressure — with those that pretend the lines don’t exist are the ones that feel the pain the most in the end.

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Kevin Tudor

Born and raised in the mean streets of Yukon, Oklahoma, Kevin is currently majoring in...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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