Magazine article Variety

Five Who've Been There

Magazine article Variety

Five Who've Been There

Article excerpt

THERE WAS A TIME in the Oscar foreign-language category's not-toodistant history when the nominating committee fell for films about the sentimental bond between a grandfatherly old man and the bright-eyed boy he takes under his wing - feel-good films such as "Kolya" and "Cinema Paradiso."

Ruben Ostlund's "The Square" is not that movie. In fact, it's very nearly the opposite, hinging on the standoffbetween Christian (Claes Bang), the liberal-minded director of a Swedish art museum, and the immigrant child he falsely accuses of stealing his wallet. It's a confrontation that goes unresolved, leaving Christian (and the audience) to cope with his guilt.

That's hardly the formula for an Oscar nominations, and yet, Östlund came close (he was shortlisted in 2015) with his provocative film "Force Majeure." Plus, the jury at this year's Cannes clearly responded to Ostlund's provocation (which includes a scene in which a performance artist takes his monkey-imitation shtick too far among a crowd of donors wearing gowns and tuxedos, which the director knew would premiere in a room full of people wearing gowns and tuxedos), awarding "The Square" the Palme d'Or.

"This chief curator, Christian, can support these humanistic values when it comes to the art museum, but I wanted to make it a little bit harder in his own life," Ostlund says. "I see myself as Christian very much. I don't look at him as hypocritical. I thought it was interesting to ask, how do we deal with these ideals on a practical level? I think that when we look at situations where we fail, we can actually understand a lot about ourselves."

"The Square" toys with this idea in various ways, using a relatively simplistic narrative (involving the theftof Christian's wallet and its consequences) as a frame of sorts in which to pose a number of uneasy sociological micro-dramas, inspired either by personal experience or anecdotes shared by friends (the scene in which the crowd reacts as a man with Tourette Syndrome disrupts a museum interview actually happened at a play Ostlund attended). Through it all, the common theme is the disconnect between how liberal-minded people aspire to behave and where they fall short when tested by real-life situations.

The Oscar, like all consensus prizes, tends to shy away from confrontation, although there are exceptions, such as Luis Buñuel, whose 1972 winner "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" Ostlund looks to as an inspiration (though he prefers the title to the film itself). …

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