The Square Ruben Ostland (2017 Swe) Claes Bang
viewed Tyneside Cinema 22 March 2018; ticket £9.75
So like a selfie
Ruben Ostland’s movie the Square is a perfectly calculated vehicle for the age of narcissism, our absorption with self image. This is the age of the image, billions and billions of them, and of this hyper plenitude of images the most significant are those we make for and of – ourselves. An earlier generation of movie makers most obviously Bresson, Bergman, might have employed film to probe something of the unseen in man; today’s directors can procede on the basis that as the unseen gives up no image, so, it can be taken as a given that it is non existent. Image is all.
Ostland’s protagonist, Christian, is the director of a leading edge art gallery in Stockholm, XRoyal. He lives by the image and will die by the image. Ostland’s script is crafted about a number of comic situational set pieces that allow Christian to show that if love is blind, then self love is locked-in syndrome. A series of interviews presentations interpolations and a one night stand establish, economically humorously – perceptively – that ‘me’ and ‘me too’ is the subject at the heart of the post modernist expression of art.
Christian’s gallerial world envelopes him excluding the beggars and refugees that proliferate and multiply outside on the streets of Stockholm, part of the circuitry of small change from which Christian’s electronic payments have freed him. They are also tangentially related to the world of trust and caring, defined by idea of the Square, that he has decided to import as a artist’s concept into the bounded world of the gallery. The Square as concept accords with the key strictures of ‘Art’ marketing. It has the specious conceptual quality of seeming to be mean something, when it means nothing; it is about generating image, an outer symbolic pointing to something that is not there but can be seen; it is emptied of everything except self image but as concept as image, draws attention to itself as a gestural performance.
The development of the Square concept as a trust experiment and its marketing, is beautifully offset by the scene in the bedroom during Christian’s one night stand. Having fucked the admiring lady he removes his condom and, distrusting the woman’s motives refuses to hand it over to her for disposal, thinking she might try a little self fertilisation on the side with his prize A Grade semen.
Though you might think Christian would want, as his gesture, to put the condom in the Square or at least use a condom lined with an effective spermicide.
The trouble with the Ostland’s movie is that it reaches its natural climax with the explosive YouTube marketing film. Watching the fall out from this debacle seems to wrap up all the film has to say. But instead, Ostland, perhaps driven by extra filmic forces, subjects the audience to another hour of inconsequential footage. Perhaps the idea of the ordeal by embarrassment caused by framing issues arising from the ape-man’s presence and antics amongst the dinner guests from the upper tier of Stockholm society, felt too good to drop. But this sort of context framing difficulty is well covered in film, and in its inconsequentiality added nothing to ‘The Square’.
But Ostland’s cinematic use of camera frame was an outstanding feature of both the film’s comic vision and of its filmic concern. Ostland has a sensitised feel for the potential of comedic situations and how to exploit them effectively. He understands that the projections of what is suggested out of frame, used economically and succinctly, is more effective than what might be shown. But also the idea of using out of frame events means that Christian himself is held centre frame. The events from which we are occluded are never as important as Christian and his reaction. Ostland structures his camera work to accord with the key motif of his movie.
In ‘The Square’ there is one undisputed moment of sublime performance artistry. It is joke which to some extent drives the script. Christian has his pocket expertly and exquisitely picked by a true delving artist. He is left as naked – bereft of his mobile and his wallet. Of course he doesn’t see the art nor get the joke. The problem with the film is that the joke becomes a shaggy dog story that outlives its battery life. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org