The Square
This screening featured a Q&A with actor Terry Notary.

The Square starts with its main character, Christian, a modern art museum curator, trying to help a woman who says she is being chased by a man who wants to kill her. Christian blocks the man in a shoving match, everyone disperses and Christian realizes his phone and wallet have been pick-pocketed. So goes The Square, a satire on the trendy art world where everything is subverted, people are often fake and stories reach uncomfortable conclusions.

As Christian tries to get his wallet and phone back he is drawn into poorer communities in Sweden, many of them immigrants, who sharpen the satirical view that the director, Ruben Ostlund, is painting of the art world. A speaker is interrupted at a discussion on art by a man with some form of Asperger’s, and the wealthy attendees choose to sit through his obscene outbursts so he won’t be excluded from the event.

The museum is introducing an installation work entitled “The Square” which is an illuminated square in the middle of the museum courtyard, “a place of trust and caring”. It is up to Christian to find a way to make this newsworthy. The outside PR firm they hire makes it clear that “trust and caring” don’t sell well and propose injecting the exhibition with some controversy or conflict. You can tell from their glib sloganeering that this is not going to end well.

The signature part of the film is a gripping sequence where a performance artist enters a formal dinner for the museum’s wealthy benefactors wearing just a pair of pants, and acts like an aggressive ape, screaming at some of the diners, jumping on the tables and pawing the women - as the men in the room prove slow to react. In a question and answer session after the LAWAC screening, Terry Notary, who plays the ape-man, said the scene was intended to make people uncomfortable, as Ostlund, “likes to puncture pretensions.”

Notary, who was given no script and no rehearsals before performing the sequence, said he was surprised at how much freedom he was given to act out the scene. He said that much of what Ostlund was aiming for was spontaneous and unplanned, just as people in real life hesitate when confronted with something uncomfortable or unexpected. The film certainly succeeds in bringing the uncomfortable and the unexpected to the fore.

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