Local Cinemas this week

The Square

Christian (Claes Bang) is the head curator at a prestigious contemporary art museum in Stockholm. Startlingly handsome, elegantly dressed and decked out in fashionable eyewear, he’d be instantly recognizable in the hippest of galleries and bars anywhere in the inner west. He drives a Tesla, supports the right causes and is smoothly plausible, at least until asked to explain what the buzzwordy mumbo-jumbo about his latest installation by an English artist (Dominic West) on the gallery’s website actually means. That challenge comes from American journalist Anne (Elizabeth Moss) early on, and disarms us into thinking we may be watching a satire on the pretensions of the art world. The Square is that, and it hits its mark effortlessly, but writer-director Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure) has much more in mind. And he brilliantly keeps us off-balance too while taking on hot-button issues like race, xenophobia, gender power abuse, poverty, class privilege, self delusion and social media – all with an off-kilter Nordic twist that is both edgily funny and deadly serious. There are long scenes of mortifying discomfort: As long as I live I’ll never forget Anne and Christian’s queasy argument over the contents of a used condom, or the exquisitely awkward set-piece where a performance artist (Terry Notary) terrorises the patrons of a black-tie gallery fund-raiser. Like so much of the film, those scenes are wild and unpredictable – and utterly mesmerizing. It decisively won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. It was my personal favourite from the 2017 Sydney Film Festival. Know this: The Square will be the best film you see all year. MA15+ at Palace Norton St and Dendy Newtown from March 1.  ★★★★★

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Gloria Grahame was a big Hollywood star and Oscar winner (The Bad and The Beautiful) in the 50s, on par with the likes of Lauren Bacall and Lana Turner. But by the time of her affair with the much younger actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) in Paul McGuigan’s handsome-looking two-hander (based on Turner’s own book) her acting career was on the skids. Not that she admits that to herself (or anyone) here, she’s as imperious and as unpredictable as ever – in that now familiar diva way. But not unappealing either – actually she’s quite lovely and as played by Annette Bening – its easy to see why, despite their 29 year age gap, Peter fell for her. Their joyful and then tempestuous affair is played in flashback, with the later section following a reunion a bit later in the UK when she was terminally ill with breast cancer – and the title here acts as a spoiler as to what actually happens. The two leads are perfect together, many of their scenes are tenderly touching and it’s largely due to their acting chops that this telling of their odd relationship works at all. And the movie does too, it’s pleasantly “nice” in an afternoon matinee sort of way. Grahame herself was no stranger to odd relationships, only briefly mentioned here in a terse dinner with her mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and sister. Four times married and divorced and deemed an “unfit mother” during a bitter custody battle, her fourth husband was also her former stepson — the child of her second husband, the film director Nicholas Ray. Got that? Apparently when still married Ray discovered then in bed together when the boy was only 13. You can’t help thinking that might have made for a more interesting movie. Well, a more salacious one anyway… And as always in these cases, it’s interesting to reverse the genders of those involved. Will anyone ever make a “nice” movie about Woody Allen? M at Palace Norton St, Palace Central and Dendy Newtown from March 1. ★★★

Also opening this week

Red Sparrow starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian spy. Is there anything that woman can’t do? Our ★★★★1/2 review here

Reviews – Russell Edwards