Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s The Square (2017)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part V of V

“I’m really proud that I conquered you.”

After Force Majeure and now The Square, it’s become quite apparent to me that after the clear protruding Andersson and Haneke phases in his earlier work, Ruben Östlund has subsequently transmuted into making rather some of the most original work of this century so far whether you jive with its peculiarities or not. This is a fair, though seemingly bit insecure in if it’s saying enough to the point where sometimes it’ll just say it, examination of social class polarity and congruence that’s not quite at the level of something like his previous feature Play (2011), but one that’s outrageously amplified by how absorbing the otherwise diversely creative and atmospheric scenarios the commentary can find itself in, even when push comes to shove. I can picture all the madness here being more accordingly divided and subsequently comprehensive in the form of a mini-series, cause the catchiness to the film is almost fittingly like an open-ended gallery walk itself — episodic in that regard — taken on by mainly one lead figure who runs back and forth between its different attractions and arguably treats them as so, which makes for an egocentric *yet very human* leading set of eyes to see through. 

As a dark comedy, I think this nails its intentions the most. Watching people in power candidly attempt art on classism as an act of creating change (monetarily and self-righteously) is always going to trigger but also be a reference point to laugh it down by the majority audience, and while its hitting common knowledge clichés that you’d presume come with modern technological liberal media-based business scheming and the behavior of its chairmen, it admittedly runs with them well as if they were gags in a sitcom, and Östlund’s usual erratic character retorting helps fortify them with unsheathing enigma as well. Obviously, you’d hope that the film is self-aware enough nonetheless to notice how this subjugation of supposed depth is mirroring the film’s very existence in a way; it seems partially intentional but, at the same time, Östlund goes to prove there’s a never-ending existential inclination for this realization of the soundless bourgeoise to come full circle in a meaningful way that can make sense of their nature towards the encompassing social pawns which is demonstrated pretty thoroughly in the movie; an ending that doesn’t do this in the most LITERAL way possible by basically giving up for example. This would indicate that even the world-builder doesn’t know what to make of the many pieces he’s assembled here, perhaps an assembly of his own self-image as a matter of fact, which will probably make its cryptic precariousness rightfully come off as pretentious to a plethora of viewers, but I can relate to *and therefore forgive* the dilemma honestly. Art often reveals the mess of us as contradictory and hypocritical as it can get most of the time, and I’ll cheers to hollering at that whether I feel self-deprecative enough to see it or blissfully unaware enough to pretend like I do at the moment.

The Square is also shot to f**king death as goes with an Östlund 2010s picture at this point. Its sound design is everything to boot, and that performance party scene in particular — like a build-off of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962) — is one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed on screen in a while. Actually, I’ll credit the condom scene to that as well. Of course, Elisabeth Moss of any actor also happens to be in it, and not to mention a chimpanzee in the background just cause.

Verdict: B

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“The Square” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure (2014)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part IV of V

If it weren’t for Mats, this movie would’ve been virtually nothing but pain. 

If you’ve ever heard people talk about how it takes no more than a second to ruin a marriage, they ain’t bulls**tting. There are a surplus of factors that are taken for granted, or more so, assumed upon when diving headfirst into the prospect of family. But the reality is, all it takes is one glimpse at a contradiction to something you’d always considered organic, meaning you never really had to question its existence, and you’ll… well… begin questioning it. Gender roles are an essential one: something that warps the more and more our independence to explore philosophical idealism is swelled, but something that will always exist in the back of our minds and far down in our gut so long as we’re human. 

Settings such as a cozy middle-class resort are semblances that convince us of our own security, automatically permitting people to indulge in more societal ethics rather than biological ones, and many have become accustomed to its comforts that program humans with an obliviousness to danger. Yet, the fact of the matter is, whenever the curtains do draw of needing to survive, the biological nature of attraction will lead however much again. Since the beginning of life, protection has been one of the key traits a man is most valued for, and in Force Majeure, its existence, hidden time and time again in the age of today, is exposed brutally.  

So when it happens, a wife’s image of her husband is shattered as if God is seemingly sending signal after signal to indicate that perhaps he’s a chum father and lover. The innocence exhibited by their forgiving children contradicts tragically with their Mother and Father’s interpersonal development as they attempt to mend their quarrel from escalating; they don’t quite understand the deeper impetus behind why his actions are condemned by their Mother in particular, but they understand it could be a dealbreaker for the both of them if they do confront it. The husband experiences a reality check from this breakage of once warm absent-mindedness: despite the security he provides for his family from his financially affluent job, he can still be on the lifeline for having any sort of slip up in his distribution of it, and the gender-based or parental-based reactions from others reaffirm to him more than the ones on the nature of ego that it’s something worthy of being profoundly ashamed of – the independence is unswelling! Thus, the movie is a medley of angles, and the often tense atmosphere Ruben Östlund masters here is able to magnify them as we pivot from each evolving character perspective.

Towards the final act, Force Majure then becomes a reclaiming of masculinity comedy. Proving you’re a traditional man may still be a requirement even in this day in age, but in bourgeois living conditions, maybe not as much as in the days of say Alexander the Great. The film has a marvelously bittersweet method of resolving it all, though mended with concernable pity, it restores the family image even so as something like a darkly waggish Homer Simpson kind of exemplum would promote.

Verdict: A-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Force Majeure” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Play (2011)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part III of V

“Be honest and tell Mum and Dad what happened.”

In just the opening scene, you can tell Ruben Östlund is helming this from the work of Michael Haneke. Play plays *not intended* some real-life Funny Games (1997) with not only the psychological infliction and torture its characters embark on, but the emotional and moral conflict it puts you as a viewer through, now presented via concrete plausibilities involving race however, and not Haneke’s guilt-tripping consumption of staged violence. One way or another, you’ll be triggered by it.

Between the pivotal characters awaits a glimpse into tribal mentality. The victims, for example, criticize their friend for trying to walk out of a frankly hostile situation, as if the gesture is impolite, selfish, or perhaps an ethical betrayal to both them and the robbers who they’ve developed Stockholm syndrome for. Clans will pressure collective suffering to suggest disbandment as the consequence of avoiding it. Then there are the sly robbers, on the other hand, one who even guilt-trips the white (and the token Asian) kids by telling them, “anybody dumb enough to show their phone to five black guys has only themselves to blame.” Fact of the matter: everybody here is indulging in racial stereotypes that have instituted this negative altercation whether ill-intended or not. Previously, two of the kids even beat up their friend for opting out of continuing the unusual robbing and discharge him from the group. It’s as if shame is not only brought upon people who do not believe in the “labels”, but also brought upon people who do not live up to their “labels”.

Occasionally, Play will also be in the company of white side characters who relish in the culture of foreigners but at the same time remote to hearing their struggles out. Funny how the poor in this are seen as material “thieves”, and the financially stable are pardoned for any other form of it. Low-income creates criminals, low-income selection is often a byproduct of racism, particular groups of color are then labeled, thus everybody begins to apply negative biases on races even if they’re directed at themselves. But then again, there are also the high-income whites who’ll try to compensate for it with liberal excess, and some low-income minorities are willing to take advantage of that, but subsequently the other high-income whites will REALLY take advantage of it as a method of gaining more control — having the gall to illegally harass a child physically is one thing, but there’s so much more to the idea in which the film proposes from this incident that’ll get audiences thinking.

Suffice it to say, it’s an infuriatingly anti-wing film that wants you to struggle siding. I’m sure it’s especially meant to challenge those in position of a clear wing nonetheless, but anyone on the political spectrum in general will probably face internal conflict enduring the material here regardless.

*at least as an American, I know for the majority of us it’s going to be DENIAL*

One thing is for certain nonetheless: the presentation of it all is f**king elaborate. On top of its feasible personas — this time though relying on primarily child actors —, Östlund has surpassed the frozen still shot with sparing transitional camera movements (sometimes ones that appear automated or Ken-Burns-esc to replicate a bystander POV) and lens focusing that reminded me of how much blocking can feel like a magic trick. Even amidst the manipulative ambition Play has, you can’t deny it executes such with an iron fist.

Verdict: B+

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Play” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary (2008)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part II of V

Essentially round two of The Guitar Mongoloid but with more coherent themes linked between the multiple ongoing incidents. Much to its name, Involuntary is about how we maneuver observation: the silence of observation, the withholding of observation, the coping of observation, handling release of information from observation, affirming what we’ve observed into the reality of others – despite social jeopardy – as perhaps an intrinsic way of affirming it into our own. It’s then only fitting that Ruben Östlund continues to utilize his Peeping Tom compositions throughout, limiting visual boundaries as an atmospheric emulation of our innate pining to disinter closure.

Also, no wonder the bus driver’s wife divorced him so heinously. Supreme foreshadowing! 

Verdict: B-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Involuntary” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s The Guitar Mongoloid (2004)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part I of V

Ruben Östlund’s directorial debut is less so an overarching anthological narrative and more so a starter pack of scenes collected overtime, meant for demonstrating the filmmaker’s competence in constructing absurd human instances that fail to contradict though with how genuine and based in reality they seem because of their felicitously maladroit nature – don’t let that made-up town name it takes place in throw you off. Sure, it’s gimmicky with little return in sum, essentially a series of *somewhat* random slice-of-life moments that may or may not emit value individually depending on the viewer, yet it’s quite enjoyable when they do achieve their intended charm. It has a lo-fi Roy Andersson sensibility to it as well, abiding by the “still shot per scene” rule.

Verdict: B-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“The Guitar Mongoloid” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Jacques Demy Marathon Part III of III • Screened at The Frida Cinema


Self-aware slice of fantasia harkening to the Gene Kelly Hollywood era but stuck by default in its era of French New Wave bleakness. Though, I didn’t take this as a strictly woeful tragedy — more of an acceptance of it and how true love doesn’t need to be “the life” when looking forward since it’s not the sole gateway to bliss — but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a plethora of intentional choices here to make the two lovers’ departure from fairytale idealism anything but an unreturned maneuver when considering the peers that influenced them. I know what you did now Damien Chazelle.

But, let’s be honest here fellas: more importantly than any of this…

The color, the color, THE COLOR!

Verdict: B

Jacques Demy Ranked

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Jacques Demy’s Bay of Angels (1963)

Jacques Demy Marathon Part II of III

This Jean guy has got to learn how to have some independence for himself, sheesh.

Quite the L when we allow chance to judge a person’s character, but in all fairness, that sort of sounds like the foundation for almost every encounter ever. The thing about gambling though is that it’s more direct: the act grants a stimulative ability to see a resolute good or bad to what came before or what’s to come, and it’s one of the easiest ways for us to judge our actions and subsequent drives based on its end results. It’s a simplified way of perceiving and living, and happiness and sadness in its perks become so black-and-white to the point where its straightforwardness is its addiction, especially in the face of love. The willingness to see it through and perhaps counter that yin and yang though then becomes what makes it worth going back to, to see if there is something deeper beyond its one-note mechanics, when really, luck is a bulls**t game we’d like to think is more deliberate than it actually is.

As someone who pulls crap like having to lock their car four times before leaving it, it’s furthermore proof that despite me knowing that these stunts are idle, I still subconsciously convince myself they’re not.

Verdict: B

Jacques Demy Ranked

“Bay of Angels” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Jacques Demy’s Lola (1961)

Jacques Demy Marathon Part I of III

“It’s ruined. The sky ran into the sea.”

Actually, I’ll ask you: do you think this movie exists during days where these people’s lives happen to function on a series of coincidences or does it exist in a world where they all play a role in the same series of experiences but each enduring it during contrasting timelines? Either way, the charm of Jacques Demy’s directorial debut is this sort of celebratory plot-writing on how we share and pass on similar experiences, romanticizing our akin dreams that occasionally become a reality but, as compensation, stay very much a dream to the majority of others in this revolving script to frame humanity. Lola has options, but don’t you dare question that she’ll choose any other than the one most straight from a fairytale if presented! Tis a pity though that it naturally leaves room for others’ contempt towards likelihood…

Quite ahead of its time. Pulp Fiction.

Verdict: B+

Jacques Demy Ranked

“Lola” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part V of V

“I am number one.”

Persona (1966) but for assassins.

Five movies into Seijun Suzuki’s filmography of the 60s, and what I’ve gathered, especially after reading up about his firing following the release of Branded to Kill, is that pushing buttons little by little was this dude’s forte. If I had detected his French New Wave influence in Tokyo Drifter (1966) then by God do I detect it now in this monochrome fever dream of a crime thriller. Hard to think that the person behind the perfectly commercial Youth of the Beast (1963) would only take less than half a decade to get enraptured by the cinematically uncrackable.

To me, while cryptic, this is still quite a persuasive piece when it comes to satirizing the competitive nature of men. As much as it is a Melville with all its bleak crime elements, it’s also as much a Buñuel with its surrealism — the movie even has a disturbing scene involving eyes! Some moments that particularly stumped me but gave me at least the surface perception of conflicted masculine energy include the drunk’s demise, palm of butterflies, intimacy with the projection of a so-called lover you couldn’t acquire, and squeals of babies. The assassinations themselves run on some seriously indelible dream-logic as well like when our lead is rescued during the act by an airship… or shooting an orthodontist through a water pipe… The finale nails its tragedy to a hopeless pulp in the literal – alas exposed and most simplified – battle arena itself: a boxing cage. Even if it’s by pissing their pants, men could somehow write it off as simply a means towards dominion.

By a long-shot Suzuki’s best.

Verdict: A

All-Time Favorites, Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Branded to Kill” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part IV of V


Nahhh, Seijun Suzuki definitely tripped acid to make this, at least during post-production. This is some seriously new wave-y hodgepodge-d s**t with its almost incomprehensible surrealist’s continuity. By the millisecond this thing can hop from being a Jean-Pierre Melville picture to a Mel Brooks one, and is fragranced in a psychedelia of angelic-looking set pieces enhancing the audacity of it all. Regarding the protruding elephant in the room, Quentin Tarantino himself must’ve jotted the f**k down in his stealer’s notepad during initial screenings of this cartoony western meets crime genre paroxysm. Not sure if it’s as enjoyable, especially story or character-wise next to an actual Melville, as it is just baffling to a degree of being inspired, such as a Godard, but sometimes the best films are only crafted the way they are because films like Tokyo Drifter decided to recklessly make a move first. Great tunes also. The shootouts don’t hurt it either. 

Worst blocked Suzuki movie so far though, partially compensated nonetheless by its out-of-pocket cutting. Jarring… but with style! 

Verdict: B

Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Tokyo Drifter” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.