Saturday’s Spotlight: The Square
The busiest day of the 17th Annual New Hampshire Film Festival concluded with a showing of The Square at the Portsmouth Music Hall. Audience anticipation was high for this Swedish comedy after its 2017 win of the illustrious Palme d’Or, the highest accolade for film, awarded at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival.
Directed and written by Ruben Östlund and produced by Erik Hemmendorff, The Square stars Claes Bang as Christian, the curator of the Swedish contemporary art museum, the X-Royal. As curator of the museum, Christian wants the art displayed at the museum to be more than just eye-catching; he feels art should have some social impact as well. After the X-Royal receives a generous donation, the first acquisition is The Square, a simple piece that seeks to establish a social contract in the same that a pedestrian crosswalk does. The manifesto of the piece is presented as, “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within its boundaries we share equal rights and obligations.” Christian simplifies this creed to some of the museum’s benefactors as The Square being a place where anyone can ask for help. Anyone can stand in The Square and ask anyone for help and those passing by are obligated to help. It is with these noble intentions that things begin to go horribly awry for Christian and the museum.
While The Square reminds us of the importance of art on a societal level, it also satirizes modern art and the world that it must exist in. A humorous exchange early in the film between Christian and Anne, played by Elisabeth Moss, asks the age-old question, “What is art?” A number of other scenes poke fun at this concept, with two of the funniest centering around the characters played by Dominic West and Terry Notary. Another source of comedy for the film is the idea of current trends in marketing. The film juxtaposes the timeless integrity of an art museum with the slap-dash, viral necessities of today’s marketing landscape. To try to promote The Square, the PR agency hired by the museum creates an unorthodox promotional campaign which quickly gets out of hand while Christian is preoccupied with chaos he has created in his personal life.
When the film concluded, it was met with great applause by the audience. For a festival dedicated to sharing and promoting the arts, there could be no better choice to end Saturday’s lineup than The Square. The film reminds us of the importance of the arts to society and forces us to reflect on their place in an ever-changing world. We don’t always know the path forward that the arts will take but if The Square is any indication, at least there will be plenty of laughs along the way.
By Ben Bradbury-Koster