REVIEWS: The Square (not the Palme D’Or winner)

29 05 2017

Remember when Harvey Weinstein manufactured a PR stunt for “The Butler” by juicing a scandal over the name of the film, eventually making a big hubbub and changing it to “Lee Daniels’ The Butler?” (Nope? Good for you. I still refuse to call it that.) Hopefully Magnolia Pictures will spare us the drama when it comes to getting the word out about Ruben Östlund’s “The Square,” which won the Palme D’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Just in this decade, there have already been two films by the same name!

Nash Edgerton (brother of Joel, who co-wrote the film) goes full Aussie neo-noir in his debut feature “The Square” (B / ). It’s got many of the hallmarks of the genre: unfaithful spouses, torrid affairs, money issues, crooked businessmen, staged crimes, doomed escape. It’s almost as if the characters should know they’re in a noir movie, that’s how closely it fits the genre script.

Edgerton has clearly done his homework here and knows how to do right by the rules of noir. But those rules are meant to be bent, even broken, a little bit in the modern era. Otherwise, why not just go watch a classic noir on TCM? “The Square” can be exciting at times, yet anyone who knows the genre patterns will be able to predict what’s coming from a mile away.

Still, it’s a promising start for a director – and it’s a little shocking that it took him a decade to get another feature off the ground. (Per IMDb, he’s currently filming “Gringo,” a star-studded production for Amazon Studios.)

Jehane Noujaim’s documentary “The Square” (B+), on the other hand, feels like something vital and fresh at every turn. Her camera captures the democratic uprising of the Arab Spring in Egypt as protestors demand the downfall of the autocratic Mubarak regime. It begins with the demonstrations and continues as their optimism and idealism gradually weans when the realities of governance begin to set in.

Don’t come to “The Square” expecting a “Frontline” style special breaking down the progress of the protests or providing an extensive primer on Mubarak’s reign. Noujaim’s film has all the vitality of a primary source document, one that’s focused entirely on the sensations of the actual revolution. It’s a present-tense documentary, one full of raw emotion and intense fervor.

The film is a bit messy, though perhaps a more tidy edit would betray the sensation of “The Square” in the first place. Form matches content quite nicely. While a more conventional streamlining might have made the documentary a better film, those moments of pure, unfiltered emotion break through nonetheless. This is more than just a movie. It’s history, filmed.

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