A sham­bolic hero’s de­scent into cri­sis

The Square (15) and Tomb Raider (12A)

Sunday Herald Life - - Film Review - By Demetrios Matheou

COME­DIES rarely win big at film awards – cer­tainly in Cannes, where earnest­ness seems to be a pre­req­ui­site for the Palme d’Or for best film. In fact, be­fore The Square’s vic­tory in 2017, the last win­ner that was ac­tu­ally fun was Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fic­tion way back in 1994. For that rea­son alone, Swedish writer/direc­tor Ruben Östlund’s satire is a breath of fresh air.

Chris­tian (Claes Bang) is the dash­ing, charis­matic, slightly ec­cen­tric cu­ra­tor of a con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum in Stock­holm, who’s about to un­veil a new con­cep­tual work, The Square. Be­fore he does, some­one steals his mo­bile phone, wal­let and his cuff­links. And Chris­tian’s fo­cus be­comes ab­surdly and dis­pro­por­tion­ately dis­tracted from his work, with dis­as­trous re­sults.

Östlund fol­lows his sham­bolic hero on a multi-lev­elled de­scent into cri­sis. This in­cludes the ill-fated at­tempt to re­trieve the stolen goods him­self, a onenight stand (in his eyes) with a jour­nal­ist (El­iz­a­beth Moss) who ex­pects more re­spect, an ap­pallingly mis­guided mar­ket­ing cam­paign for The Square, and a fundraiser in which a per­for­mance artist takes his re­mit to shock the pun­ters way, way too far. For much of the time, the di­vorcee has his two young daugh­ters in tow – they are un­der­stand­ably be­wil­dered.

The cu­ra­tor is a model of well-ed­u­cated hypocrisy. On the one hand, he wholly be­lieves in the themes of trust and car­ing in­her­ent in the new art­work; in prac­tice, he’s self­ish, prej­u­diced, dis­trust­ful and vain. Bang plays him bril­liantly, with an air of per­pet­ual pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, main­tain­ing a skil­ful bal­anc­ing act with our sym­pa­thies.

It is con­stantly hi­lar­i­ous, in nu­mer­ous modes: slap­stick, sur­real, satir­i­cal and in two no­table in­stances – an in­ter­view with an artist (Do­minic West) that is in­ter­rupted by an au­di­ence mem­ber with Tourette’s, and the fundraiser – through the com­edy of em­bar­rass­ment and dis­com­fort. A scene in which Bang and Moss fight over a con­dom has a ran­dom ge­nius; a cleaner ac­ci­den­tally hoover­ing up an ex­hibit will tickle ev­ery­one who has de­spaired at con­cep­tual art.

At the same time, any­one who’s seen Östlund’s pre­vi­ous films Play and Force Ma­jeure will know him to be both a moral, so­cially-minded film­maker. And be­neath the mirth is a dis­qui­et­ingly ef­fec­tive com­men­tary on the way peo­ple treat each other in so-called civilised so­ci­eties.

There’s also a strong Swedish el­e­ment to Tomb Raider, in the form of its star. Ali­cia Vikan­der, who re­cently won an Os­car for her per­for­mance in The Dan­ish Girl, is ar­guably at a sim­i­lar point in her ca­reer as was An­gelina Jolie when the Amer­i­can played video-game hero­ine Lara Croft on screen in the early noughties. And again, there’s more to like about the per­former than the film it­self.

In keep­ing with the 2013 re­boot of the video games, this re­turns to Croft’s ori­gins as an ad­ven­turer. Here, she’s a cy­cle-couri­er­ing un­der-achiever in Lon­don, mourn­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance and likely death of her busi­ness­man fa­ther (Do­minic West again) when she learns of his se­cret pas­time – sav­ing the world from the su­per­nat­u­ral – and trav­els to a mys­te­ri­ous is­land near Japan to con­clude his last mis­sion.

A kick-box­ing scene shows Vikan­der to be toned and ac­tion ready. And dur­ing ex­pertly ex­e­cuted ac­tion se­quences she lends Lara a flesh-and-blood au­then­tic­ity – we feel her pain, emo­tional and phys­i­cal.

The prob­lem is the skimpy script, which cre­ates a de­cid­edly one-note ex­pe­ri­ence, from ac­tion to heavy emot­ing and back again, all the while cry­ing out for some hu­mour. The per­ti­nent com­par­i­son is not with other video-game adap­ta­tions – which are uni­formly poor – but with the In­di­ana Jones films, which com­bine ac­tion, won­der, char­ac­ter and com­edy much more ef­fec­tively.

Pho­to­graph: PA Photo/Warner Bros

Ali­cia Vikan­der stars as Lara Croft

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