A shambolic hero’s descent into crisis
The Square (15) and Tomb Raider (12A)
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.
Alicia Vikander stars as Lara Croft