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Laramie Movie Scope: The Square

A comedy of art and manners

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 19, 2017 – Under ideal circumstances, I might have laughed a lot more at this comedy about modern art, upper class smugness and the thin veneer of civilization. Unfortunately, I was the early stages of flu-like symptoms when I saw it, so I will give it a bit higher rating that I ordinarily would. Given the time constraints of award season, I can't really watch it again any time soon. I can never unwatch it anyway.

This is an overlong Swedish movie with a kind of scattershot plot that is all over the place, raging between keen social observations and outright absurdities. The central character is the director of a modern art museum, Christian (Claes Bang) who is trying to promote the opening of a new exhibit called “The Square.” It is basically a lighted square in the ground.

Puzzled by how to promote the square, Christian, and the museum board hire media consultants, who point out that the square is boring and won't attract any attention on its own, so they propose a dramatic video about the square that will get people's attention. Christian, who is distracted by other things, tells the new media gurus to go ahead with their plan, and disaster ensues.

Christian is distracted because he was duped by a band of street grifters who relieved him of his wallet and phone. He and a tech-savvy employee, Michael (Christopher Læssø) manage to track the GPS device in Christian's phone to an apartment building. They come up with the insane plan of delivering vaguely threatening letters to everyone in the building, demanding the return of the stolen items.

Christian tries to coerce Michael into hand delivering the letters into the door slots of every apartment in the tall building, but Michael refuses do it. Christian very reluctantly has to do it himself. It is clear he is not used to doing his own dirty work. Amazingly, the plan works, and Christian gets his stuff back, but then he gets grief from a kid who, because of one of Christian's letters, was blamed by his parents for the theft, even though he had nothing to do with it.

Instead of doing the right thing, explaining the situation to the kid's parents, Christian lets the situation escalate until it starts spinning out of control. Once again, he sends his employees off to do his dirty work. That distracts him at a time he should be paying attention to his job. The purpose of publicity at a museum of modern art is to not to offend anyone, particularly potential donors. The publicity video for the square offends a lot of people.

One of the exhibits at the museum is a room with piles of debris, like ashes. A janitor accidentally sweeps up some of this stuff. In a telling scene, Christian tells an assistant how to use pictures of the exhibit, and the recovered debris, to fix it. This shows Christian's true colors with it comes to this supposed “art.”

Probably the most famous scene in the movie has to do with performance art by Terry Notary, playing the part of Oleg Rogozjin. As part of an ill-conceived live performance, Rogozjin invades a high end modern art museum banquet as an ape-like primitive man in a scene that seems to go on forever. It does eventually end as a funny scene where Rogozjin is attacked by savage human beasts, when he is supposed to be the animal in the room.

In another off-kilter scene, Christian and Anna (played by Elisabeth Moss of “High-Rise”) have sex in Anna's apartment where there is a large Chimpanzee roaming around on the loose. Also odd is the fact that Anna chooses to confront Christian about this sexual encounter a couple of times, claiming that Christian owes her something more than a one night stand. Christian clearly feels no obligations towards Anna, but he does have regrets about the kid wrongly accused of stealing his wallet and phone. He belatedly tries to make amends to the kid in scenes that seem out of character for him.

These are pieces of a story that don't really seem to fit together all that well. I can see what this film was trying to say, but the movie's beginning and end seemed way too far apart. To me, this seemed like a 142 minute movie with about 90 minutes of relevant plot. I'll give it a higher rating, however, because I really was not feeling well when I saw this. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]