Sad to say, but it’s not too often that you get to see a movie that is genuinely provocative. Winner of the 2017 Palme d’Or at Cannes, Swedish director Ruben Östlun has pulled off the old two-card trick by managing to savagely satirise the world of high art while at the same time conforming to a high-art aesthetic. Christian (Claes Bang), a curator preparing for a new exhibition, is mugged on the street one day. His response sets in motion a chain of events that dovetail manically with the firestorm that is created by his museum’s ill-considered promotion of the upcoming show. It’s one of Östlun’s dark jokes that the ad should be met with outrage while simultaneously providing its hipster creators with the triumph of going viral.
There is barely a scene in which you are not challenged to reassess what you think is right and proper – a Q&A with a famous artist (Dominic West) is interrupted again and again by somebody shouting obscenities, but the heckler is not asked to leave because he is a sufferer of Tourette’s Syndrome. If there is fault to be found, it could be argued that Östlun simply tries to cover too much ground in his social commentary, and by adopting a lecturing tone near the end it is hard to think that he himself has not come to the same conclusion. His take on sexual relationships is strictly carnal – when Anne (Elisabeth Moss), an American journalist, takes Christian back to her flat they close the bedroom door on a pet chimpanzee before their sweaty mating – and the veneer of civilised society is further cracked at a posh dinner party for the museum’s benefactors. A performance artist wanders among the champagne-sipping guests, behaving as though he were an ape in the jungle. How far can he go in his intimidation of those present? It is the movie’s most disturbing sequence, as Östlun gets fully in your face with his demand that we own up to ourselves. Brilliant. I wanted to watch it again straightaway.