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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES

19 New Movies You Can See This Thanksgiving Weekend

Who says cinema is dead? The Thanksgiving holiday is typically one of the busiest times of the year for the nation’s moviegoers — perhaps because so many families decide that once they’re all done eating, there isn’t all that much left to do together besides go sit in the dark. And even though 2017 has been a somewhat disappointing year for film (not to mention for everything else), there are some excellent new films playing in theaters right now. Here’s a sampling of the best ones, along with what our critics said about them.

Blade of the Immortal 

“Japanese pop idol Takuya Kimura delivers a thrillingly satiric but committed performance in samurai action-adventure Blade of the Immortal, the hundredth film helmed by cult filmmaker Takashi Miike (AuditionIzo). Kimura uses deadpan line readings and expertly timed pregnant pauses to simultaneously mock and dramatize the macho pride that defines Manji (Kimura), an emotionally constipated samurai who was cursed by a witch and now has Wolverine-like powers of self-healing.… Come for the gory swordplay, stay for the half-serious melodrama.” — Simon Abrams

Call Me by Your Name

“Even with its plainspoken and gentle portrait of gay love, [Call Me by Your Name] has already garnered the kind of buzz generally reserved for more serious or more campy films, emerging as the breakout success at Sundance, and attracting early Oscar buzz. The story revolves around a young man of seventeen, Elio Perlman, played with masterful poise by the relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet, and the will-they-won’t-they of his infatuation with Armie Hammer’s Oliver, who is staying at Elio’s family’s Italian villa as a research assistant for the Perlman father, a professor.… [The tension] evokes the type of butterflies that every kind of kid, with every kind of sexuality, has when they meet that first person who makes their heart beat faster.” — Alex Frank

Coco

“By the time it reaches its tearfully joyous finale, Pixar’s Coco plays like the movie that the most fervent Pixar fans have for a generation been telling me I’ve been missing every time I haven’t bawled my eyes out over the hurt feelings of plastic junk in the toy box. Rather than the quick welling behind the eyes I felt for Wall-E or Jessie, the Toy Story 2 cowgirl, Coco had me crying for full minutes at its last scene, a Dia de los Muertos fiesta featuring sugar-skull fireworks, ranchera sing-alongs, and that holiday sense of a family’s enduring continuity in the face of time and death.” — Alan Scherstuhl

Darkest Hour

 “Joe Wright’s Churchill-finds-his-mojo drama Darkest Hour is an epic of loin girding, a spectacle of a man and a nation psyching each other up for the terrible fight ahead. It’s a rousing wiki-deep summary of the gist of Winston Churchill’s first month in power, from his assumption of the office of prime minister to his delivery of the second most famous to-arms speech in British history. Wright’s film is fleet but not especially thoughtful, wholly convincing in its production design, and in one crucial sense something rare: Here’s a war movie about rhetoric rather than battle scenes.” — Alan Scherstuhl

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Faces Places

“Something of a prank, a farewell, an art project, a buddy comedy, a vox populi tour of the French countryside, and an inquiry into memory and images and what it means to reveal our eyes to the world, Faces Places is a joyous lulu. It finds the great documentarian and photographer Agnès Varda, 88 at the time of filming, teaming up with the 33-year-old photographer JR to wander France, their itinerary set by their own whims, doing what they each have made a life doing.… The film is light, funny, alert, alive, the work of a great and her inspired collaborator who are forever happy to be looking.” — Alan Scherstuhl

Florida Project

“Sean Baker is one of the few filmmakers working today who gets that it’s possible to find joy in small, difficult corners of the world.… [W]ith The Florida Project, his follow-up to Tangerine, Baker again grants both humanity and humor to his down-on-their-luck subjects, only maybe with a little bit of a bigger budget this time and a real camera.” — April Wolfe

God’s Own Country

“Francis Lee’s stark, striking God’s Own Country is one of several significant films this year to depict hard-edged men softening, opening up, finding the courage to admit that everything they need to get through this life isn’t already inside them. The protagonist, raw-eyed farm boy Johnny (Josh O’Connor), has inherited from his father a brusque coldness, a silence that he seems to consider fitting for a man from the rough hills of northern England.… In his debut feature, Lee has crafted a mature love story centered on an immature man facing the fear of even admitting that he needs love at all. It’s a film to prize.” — Alan Scherstuhl

Jane

“You might remember some heartfelt essays from women who were surprised to find themselves crying while watching Wonder Woman earlier this year. I was one of those criers. It was as though I didn’t know what I needed to see on the screen — a female hero — until I saw it before me. This is how I felt watching Jane. Around the midpoint of the film, [director Brett] Morgen flashes on the screen a succession of letters [primatologist Jane] Goodall’s mother wrote to her, encouraging her not to follow her husband or abandon her dreams. The scene — and all the others — is heightened by a score from Philip Glass that swells and thrums. In it, the enormity of Goodall’s bravery and accomplishments hit me like a coconut on the head. ‘My God,’ I said aloud.” — April Wolfe

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Lady Bird

“A heartfelt coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the bittersweet transition from adolescence to dawning adulthood, [Greta] Gerwig’s directorial debut is a joy from start to finish, a warm, generous snapshot of teenage vulnerability and exuberance.… Lady Bird is a rare bird: sentimental without being saccharine, emotional without being contrived, able to conjure tears without yanking at our heartstrings while the music swells. Its matter-of-factness is what makes the film ultimately so wrenching.” — Lara Zarum

Mudbound

“This story of two families united by circumstance and, as the title suggests, bound by their debt to the land, is a micro version of a larger story about systemic racism in America — a mighty force that will not simply yield to a handful of the “good ones.” And yet, despite its often brutal realism, Mudbound isn’t masochistic; it leaves room for hope, and argues fiercely for love.” — Lara Zarum

Murder on the Orient Express

“With his new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, the director-star Kenneth Branagh does nothing to besmirch the tried-and-true formula of Agatha Christie’s whodunit novels. But he does have an of-the-moment take on Christie’s beloved Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Branagh suggests Poirot as an emblem of order in a disorderly world, treating him as something of a superhero: Poirot doesn’t have superstrength or big punches to get to that realization, just his trademark miraculous insight. And, like superheroes in the first film of a franchise, he’s been given an emotional arc in which he discovers something about himself. On his sleuthing journey, Poirot must realize that truth is not quite as black-and-white as he would wish.” — April Wolfe

“On the Beach at Night Alone”

On the Beach at Night Alone

“The central image of Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone is that of a woman quietly curled up and lying motionless on the sand, her back turned to us. It’s not repeated all that often in the film — we just see it twice, really — but it is echoed in other moments, in particular one scene when we see the same woman, Young-hee (Kim Min-hee), unexpectedly stop and kneel down quietly in front of a small bridge, as if in some sort of silent, sudden prayer. In a chatty film that otherwise consists of people walking and talking or sitting and talking — their conversation often lubricated by food and drink, as in much of Hong Sang-soo’s work — the spectacle of a woman communing quietly with the ground, whether in prayer, despair, or hope, speaks to an indefinable sense of longing, an added layer of metaphysical sadness enveloping the picture.” — Bilge Ebiri

Rebels on Pointe

“If you’re one of those people who eagerly waits for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo to show up at the Joyce just before Christmas, well, this is not your year. But a consolation prize is Rebels on Pointe, a delightful documentary about the all–gay male comedy ballet company, lovingly chronicled by director Bobbi Jo Hart.… Serious balletomanes will find much to appreciate here; people who delight in seeing the form lampooned will find more.” — Elizabeth Zimmer

Song of Granite

“This patient and luminous life-of-the-artist film freshens everything stale about its genre. The music of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney here is situated in the hard beauty of the land and village he grew up in, in the songs of birds and local balladeers, in hill and sea and timeless toil. Director Pat Collins shoots in black and white, sometimes in shadows and candlelight, fascinated not by drama but by milieu.” — Alan Scherstuhl

The Square

“Ruben Östlund’s The Square, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this past May, probably says more about the times we’re living in than any other film you’re likely to see this year. And yet the beauty of the movie is that everybody will have their own ideas about what, exactly, it is saying.… When left to its own devices, does humanity find equilibrium or does it disintegrate into aggressors and subjects? And just what does it take for us to come to others’ aid? Where do we draw the line between the individual and society? The Square has a remarkably clearheaded and streamlined way of asking these many questions, but the answers it provides are always tantalizingly unclear.” — Bilge Ebiri

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Thelma

“Can we call Joachim Trier’s Thelma a horror movie? The story of a young woman whose mysterious seizures coincide with unsettling, possibly supernatural goings on around her, it certainly resembles one in its broad strokes. And with Trier’s brooding, precise stylization, it does cast a disturbing spell. But horror turns on helplessness, on pulling viewer and protagonist into a world that, on some basic level, they want no part of. Thelma starts with that idea, but moves away from the monstrous, toward compassion and understanding. Like an emo Carrie, it probes the profound underlying sadness beneath tales of possession. It makes vivid the protagonist’s loneliness and despair.” — Bilge Ebiri

Thor: Ragnarok

“Like most of the better Marvel efforts, Thor: Ragnarok feels like the work of a unique sensibility instead of a huddle of brand managers. While the studio’s films demonstrated plenty of comic flair right from the start of its shared-universe experiment, with 2008’s Iron Man, recent efforts have veered too far into bland, jokey listlessness; frivolity has trumped lightheartedness, pandering has replaced irreverence. But in Ragnarok, directed by the Kiwi filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi, the gags are weird enough, and land frequently enough, that it all seems to be coming from someplace — and someone — real.” — Bilge Ebiri

Wonder

“How do you tell a story in a way that’s clear and plainspoken enough for younger viewers, while still finding ways to bring subtlety and depth to the material? Wonder, the story of a young boy with craniofacial disorder and the people around him, opts not for concealment of its themes but accumulation. It tempers its fairly blunt narrative approach by constantly shifting its perspective. It starts off as the portrait of a troubled child, but expands to become a film about community.” — Bilge Ebiri

Wonderstruck

“For all his reputation as a capital-A Auteur, Todd Haynes has always demonstrated impressive stylistic versatility. The Sirkian pastiche of Far From Heaven is a far cry from the lo-fi expressionism of Poison, and the music video wonderland of Velvet Goldmine has relatively little in common with the fractured minimalism of I’m Not There. In that sense, among directors, he might be our foremost cinematic shapeshifter — which is just one reason why Wonderstruck feels so vitally personal.… There are few directors better than Haynes at adopting varied voices and vernaculars and then blending them to create something intoxicating and new.” — Bilge Ebiri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘The Social Contracts Have Changed’: Ruben Östlund Talks About His Palme d’Or Winner “The Square”

Even before his film The Square won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, Swedish director Ruben Östlund was one of the world’s most intriguing filmmakers, celebrated for his playful looks at the contradictions of human behavior — how our ideals conflict with our actual real-life actions. (His 2014 film, Force Majeure, about the fallout from a husband’s selfish actions during an avalanche at a ski resort, was a critical hit here in the U.S.) But The Square, about the goings-on around a contemporary art exhibit (called “The Square”) designed to create a shared safe space of equality and decency, is on another level entirely — an ambitious, expansive work that looks at our ideals and our hypocrisies from a humanistic point of view. I recently had the chance to talk to Östlund about the origins of his film, his unique approach to directing, and whether he thinks the values of “The Square” can truly be applied to real life.

As I understand it, “The Square” itself was a real artwork that you created?

It was something that started as an idea in 2008 because I was making a film called Play about a group of young boys robbing other young boys, inspired by events that took place in Gothenburg [Sweden]. I read through the court files, and you could tell that it was very, very seldom that any adult was interacting with the robbers. And it was very seldom also that any of the kids were asking for help. The robberies took place in a mall, where there were a lot of adults around. So, the bystander effect was really, really strong.

I talked to my father about this, and then he told me a story that is also told in The Square — the one that Christian [the film’s protagonist, played by Claes Bang] is telling his daughters. My father was brought up in the Fifties in Stockholm, and when he was six years old his parents put a tag around his neck with the address to their apartment, and then they sent him out into the center of Stockholm to play all alone. Back in the Fifties you looked at another adult as someone that would help your children, and today, we see that other adult almost as someone who is a threat to your children. So, the social contracts have changed. It was in this context that a friend of mine and I came up with the idea that we should create a symbolic place where we remind ourselves of the possibility of taking responsibility, and also of showing trust to other people. A symbolic place that should change the social contract, basically.

The film seems to interrogate the idea behind “The Square” as well. The ideals of the art project are noble, but they’re also quite vague.

When we were presenting that idea, we were meeting that kind of reaction. People thought it was utopian and weird, and that it wouldn’t be possible. But, personally, I think it’s comparable with a pedestrian crossing. We have a couple of lines in the street where we have an understanding that drivers should be careful when there are pedestrians. It’s kind of a beautiful invention. I was looking at “The Square” in the same way. Of course you can create a new social contract. And even if we don’t live up to these ideals, it doesn’t matter. Just the fact that we have a symbol that is trying to remind us about these ideals will create the change. “The Square” exhibit is in two cities in Sweden and two cities in Norway now. And in one city, Värnamo [Sweden], it really has become a bit of a movement.

The pedestrian crossing idea is interesting. But a pedestrian crossing…you know, you cross it. There’s a beginning and an end. You go from one point to another, and then you leave the pedestrian crossing. What would happen if someone just stood in the pedestrian crossing and waited?

[Laughs] Well, then there would be a problem with the traffic, of course. “The Square” has been used in a completely different way, though. For example, in Värnamo, there’s a group of functional handicapped people that have been protesting because they lost their benefits, so they went there and had a demonstration. The local newspaper came and took a picture and reported about it. And then when the terror event happened — the guy with the truck in Stockholm — they had a manifestation against violence. The same thing happened after a high school murder — they gathered there, people were lighting candles. This summer, something kind of beautiful happened. Someone put a flower in “The Square” with a little note saying, “Thank you to you who helped our son.” These are values that have existed for as long as we have had a civilization. There is nothing new about these values. Maybe this is a new way of trying to get attention to these values.

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I do find it interesting that Scandinavian countries seem to be so much more willing to try these kinds of progressive ideas. In the Seventies, for example, there was the commune movement. Why is that?

One thing was definitely the social democratic movement, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, there was this movement that the working class should be educated, in order to make it possible for them to claim their rights. It’s called the folkhem in Swedish, building up the idea that people should be educated even though they’re working in jobs that maybe don’t need intellectual knowledge. This really changed the possibilities for the working class, and started something that became a very flat hierarchy in Sweden. The idea behind the flat hierarchy is good — that equality is something that we strive for together. I can compare that with the U.S., where if someone has made it, it’s like, “Wow, good luck, man. Fantastic. You made it by your own hands.” In Sweden, we look critically towards that: “Were you born into circumstances that made it easier for you to reach this position?” We are striving for a flat hierarchy. There are good things about that, but there are of course also bad things about it.

Also, we have a lot of trust in the state in Sweden. For an example, when we see a beggar on the street, we think, “Why doesn’t the state take care of this?” But I think also that we are becoming more and more individualistic. Our attitude is getting closer to people in the U.S. Suddenly, when we talk about beggars, we don’t talk about it on a society level anymore. That’s really bad. We don’t say, “Let’s raise the tax 0.01 percent and let the richest help pay for this.” Now it’s only, “If I give or if I don’t give as an individual…” You put the blame and the guilt on the individual instead of trying to deal with it together.

Do you think some of this might have to do with the changing racial or ethnic dynamic of a society, too? Scandinavian societies in the past were a lot more homogeneous. I think that as the people around us start to look less and less like us, we tend subconsciously to start to find them suspicious. I found it interesting in the film that the boy that confronts Christian is an immigrant. Christian thinks of himself as a very fair-minded person, and a very humanistic person, but the film interrogates his conception of himself.

Two things. First of all, the boy — we don’t know if he’s an immigrant or not. That’s a preconception about him. But likely he can be an immigrant, yeah. But the second thing is that when it comes to Christian, it was super-important to me that he was mirroring the audience. My goal with the film was that it should be presented in Cannes in competition, and I will have this tuxedo-dressed audience sitting there and watching, in the monkey exhibition scene, a tuxedo-dressed audience. They should be confronted with themselves.

I don’t look at Christian as more hypocritical than anyone else. I look at him as myself, because so often we put ourselves on the good side. Always, always, always. I want to create a sociological experiment where we can identify ourselves when we fail. Sociology has a forgiving and humanistic view on us humans, even when we fail. I wish that I could express that in my films, because even if I want to be harsh towards the audience and confront them, I want them to understand that the situation in itself is creating bad behavior. I think that all of us have the ability of reacting in the way that Christian does — even if we don’t want to.

Claes Bang in “The Square.”

That’s the genius of the film: We’re able to identify with him, and he remains a likable guy throughout. And by questioning his actions, we question our own — without ever losing that sense of identification. How exactly did you pull that off?

One thing that I do during shooting is…OK, I have the script, I have the idea about the scene, but when we are starting to try out the scene, it’s a huge step to take something that is a written paper product and make it work as a visual product. So, I tell everybody in the scene that they have to stay true to themselves as human beings. I ask them, “Is it possible for you to do what you are doing now?” And one of the actor’s tasks is to detect that and say, “No, it’s actually not possible for me to react the way it says in the script.” Aha, then we have to change the setup, so it becomes possible for that actor to do that. They should always identify with the situation as human beings, not as characters.

For example, Christian is the chief curator of the museum. It’s super-important that Claes, who plays Christian, knows exactly what strings are attached to him in that job. You have the donators. You have the state mission of running a museum. You have to represent art, et cetera, et cetera. You have to understand the forces working on you. Then you can identify with being in that position as a human being.

Sometimes I write things that I want the actors to do, but it doesn’t work on set, and then I have to rethink. I have to find another way to go where I want to go, because if I don’t manage to direct the scene in the way that is believable for me, then I have to change what I have written.

Can you give me an example of a time when you feel you failed?

When Elisabeth Moss is coming up to Claes in the museum and surprising him. I wanted Elisabeth Moss to grab Claes in his waist and scream, “What do you want from me?!” And I didn’t manage to do that in a believable way. It is there, but it’s not as obvious. I wanted it to be, “What do you want from me?” And he’s like, “What do I want? I don’t want anything. What do you want?” That was something that I had to cut out. Maybe it’s a small detail, but yeah, it happens constantly. Every day when I’m shooting, there’s something that feels just wrong, constructed. And I have to stay true to what I think is believable.

Elisabeth Moss in “The Square.”

From what you describe, your work seems very collaborative, almost improvisatory — and yet your style is very precise.

If I’m shooting one scene a day, at the beginning of the day I’m trying out the scene together with actors, and they are free to do different things. We have certain, how do you say, gates that they have to go through — where the scene starts and where it ends. And at the beginning, it takes a long time for them to go from the beginning to the end because they are finding it in an organic way. Then they also have the freedom to try out things, and take risks — things they wouldn’t be able to do if we only had five takes.

I do in general around forty takes. So I can say, “No, take away that,” “Keep that, that was beautiful, that was brilliant.” And then we start to sculpt the scene, and we do that until the end of the day. And then I say, “Now we have five takes left. Is everybody ready?” And then for those five takes, we repeat exactly that pattern, that structure that’s the skeleton that we have built during the day. These last five takes are very similar to each other. So my goal is only to use improvisation in order for the actors to find out how to deal with the scene, but within very specific limits. Then, at the end of the day, I really, really don’t want them to improvise at all. Then they are following that exact structure through the last five takes. And very often it’s one of these last five takes that I use — usually the second to last take.

How do you know that you have an actor who will be able to work in this method you have, which is not a standard approach to filmmaking?

When I’m trying out the scene with actors, I very often act with them. So when I was trying Claes, I had him do one of the scenes with Elisabeth Moss, but I played Elisabeth Moss’s character. So I could push him into a corner with the lines that were written: “You have been inside me,” and “How should we solve this?” Then, when I tried out Elisabeth, I did the opposite — I played Claes’s character, and she played Anne [her own character]. For me it’s a way of getting to know the scene, but also getting to know the acting intelligence of the actor. With Elisabeth, she really pushed me — so even though I had done that scene, say, fifty times with different actors, suddenly I didn’t know how to answer her. She was so skillful in pushing me into a corner.

Nobody wants to help Dominic West fend off Terry Notary.

Let’s talk a little bit about the scene at the gala with Terry Notary. I’m curious about how you shot it. But also: At what point did you come up with that scene? Was that an organic part of the screenwriting process? It’s such a remarkable moment, but it’s like its own little thing inside the movie — nobody mentions it afterward.

My first inspiration for the scene was an American punk rock artist, GG Allin. I watched two YouTube clips called “GG Allin in Boston Part 1” and “Part 2.” I have never seen anyone so anarchistic. It was like they’d let a wild animal onstage or close to the audience, and the audience was also relating to him as a wild animal — you couldn’t really predict what he would do. They were scared of him at the same time they were there to watch him. These were probably some of the most intense moments I have seen with moving images.

But then, I thought that this should be some kind of performance artist. I googled “actor imitating monkeys,” and I found this clip where Terry Notary was doing a demo with his arm extensions for Planet of the Apes. So I decided to make it someone imitating a monkey. And then I also wrote this voiceover — this announcement that comes out in the speaker before he enters the room. “Soon you will be confronted by a wild animal. As you all know, the hunting instinct is triggered by weakness.” That text is really highlighting what the bystander effect is. So, for me, the scene is very thematic, it’s connected to the film. It was a way to highlight the reason that we get paralyzed when we see something that we are scared of. We are thinking, “Don’t take me, don’t take me, take someone else. I don’t want to be the prey.” So, once again, I didn’t want to put guilt in this moment when we don’t take responsibility. I wanted to look at it from a behavioristic point of view, and try to create understanding.

One of the wonderful things about that scene is that it can be interpreted in so many different ways. When I watched the film a third time, recently, I realized it also resembles what happens with something like social media — which obviously is a theme in the film. The announcer says something like, “Try not to get noticed.” Somebody steps out of line or says one thing wrong, and they’re just completely consumed. And even if you want to defend the person, you step back and think, “I shouldn’t say anything, because then I’ll get attacked.” The bystander effect is very much at work on all levels of existence.

I actually wrote down a quote the other day when I was trying to describe this behavior I think is in the scene, and also that I see on social media: “The most uncivilized thing about our time is the collective rage against individuals that have been uncivilized.” I don’t know if it makes sense for you, but the most uncivilized thing today for me is that complete anger that comes like a rage, like a riot, towards individuals who have been uncivilized. And for me, the film is very much about this in some way. I understand the audience in that room because Terry Notary is so scary — or his character is so scary. But I wanted him to walk into a room and be like an uncivilized animal. And in the end this tuxedo-dressed audience have themselves become uncivilized. So, they are having a revenge on him in the same way that he has been behaving.

 

 

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You’ll Probably Argue More About “The Square” Than Any Other 2017 Movie

Ruben Östlund’s The Square, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this past May, probably says more about the times we’re living in than any other film you’re likely to see this year. And yet the beauty of the movie is that everybody will have their own ideas about what, exactly, it is saying. It’s not a vague film, however. Östlund is specific and exacting as a writer and director, and within The Square’s empty spaces, we’re forced to confront our own values, and our own visions of ourselves.

That idea is, in fact, what The Square is literally about. In a contemporary art museum in Sweden, chief curator Christian (Claes Bang) prepares to host a conceptual art project called “The Square,” which is described as “a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” One could look at this square — it’s an actual square, by the way, carved into the middle of the courtyard of a royal palace — and lament the fact that the world has gotten to a point where such values can only be practiced in a small, four-by-four meter space, and only as part of an art project. Or one can see in it an example of the kind of idealistic and utopian thinking that could potentially sink a society. (What the hell does “a sanctuary of trust and caring” even mean, exactly?)

The language describing the installation suggests that humanity’s natural state tends toward equilibrium and fairness — or that these can at least be achieved by a kind of quiet, willing consensus. When such thinking meets the real world, of course, chaos ensues, and through its somewhat loosely connected, often hilarious vignettes, Östlund’s film questions our understanding of honesty, trust, and fellowship. Be it through a bizarre argument in the wake of a sexual encounter about what to do with a used condom, a creatively calamitous plan to retrieve a stolen phone, or a craven approach to marketing “The Square” itself, the film’s scenes suggest that our notions of integrity and community might be a lot more fragile than we think.

To add an extra layer of symbolism, “The Square” has been placed in the exact spot where once stood the statue of a monarch, further positing a debate between democratic values and those of a more hierarchical society. In the opening scenes, we see the old sculpture being removed by a crane, but a cock-up results in the statue coming loose and toppling awkwardly — as if it were one of those monuments to dictators that are periodically torn down on television by cheering, angry protesters. Who ultimately is responsible for order? And who measures equality?

Through a variety of episodes in Christian’s life and work, we see the failure of the kind of utopian thinking “The Square” represents. Is that what we’re seeing, though? Or is it the fact that Christian, as the successful and powerful head of a major art museum, cannot himself handle anything that smacks of genuine equality? Early on, we watch him walking to work on the street, amid dozens of other people. A woman runs, screaming for help, toward a nearby man, a stranger. Christian gets pulled into helping the woman, as he and the other man block a random angry dude from attacking her. Afterward, Christian and the other protective man congratulate each other and delight in the adrenaline rush of a good deed of physical bravery; the woman, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen. Would these two have been so keen to help if the woman hadn’t prompted them to? Later scenes echoing this moment suggest that the answer might be no. And the fact that Christian realizes that his phone and wallet have gone missing immediately following the incident might mean that his supposed heroism was ultimately for naught.

Christian thinks of himself as a decent, fair-minded person. But his vision of himself is, as with all of us, selective. When he’s feeling good, he gives money to beggars; when he’s concerned and distracted, he ignores them. He’s a nice, fair-minded progressive in theory, but when less powerful people that he’s wronged confront him, he gets a “Why me?” look on his face. That Claes Bang manages to keep this man reasonably charming, even as the film interrogates his privilege and his very nature, is certainly some sort of achievement.

The Square is a film of set pieces, but perhaps the most impressive involves a museum gala dinner that is interrupted by a man pretending to be an ape (played by Terry Notary, the American stuntman and motion capture coordinator), whose antics at first seem entertaining and eventually become terrifying. The scene reiterates some of the key questions at the heart of The Square: When left to its own devices, does humanity find equilibrium or does it disintegrate into aggressors and subjects? And just what does it take for us to come to others’ aid? Where do we draw the line between the individual and society? The Square has a remarkably clearheaded and streamlined way of asking these many questions, but the answers it provides are always tantalizingly unclear.

The Square
Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund
Magnolia Pictures
Opens October 27, IFC Center and Film Society of Lincoln Center