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      The breezy doc Faces Places follows co-directors Agnčs Varda and JR as they travel from village to village photographing the villagers and plastering the large photographs on variety of places including homes, farms, a train and a huge rock on a beach. JR, a street artist, had met Varda in 2015 and the two of them immediately hit it off despite having very different personalities. As the saying goes, opposites attract. Their chemistry as well as some of their friction grounds the film in humanism. They're both just as charming as the film itself. You'll find some outragously funny and witty moments. The images of the large photographs of the villagers plastered on walls are quite amusing. The closest that Faces Places gets to any kind of dark territory is when the toxic relationship between Jean-Luc Godard and Varda rises to the surface as Godard doesn't show up to a meeting with them as planned or when one of JR's artworks plastered onto a rock gets washed away by the tide. Around the hour mark, the doc starts to feel a little repetitive, but it effectively coasts by on its charms and forms of humanism alone. Cohen Media Group opens Faces Places on October 6th, 2017 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema.


The Square

Directed by Ruben Östlund




      Christian (Claes Bang), a curator at a contemporary art museum in Sweden, introduces to a the public a new installation called "The Square," a space where people who enter it are supposed to be treated equally and must show compassion and respect for others. It's somewhere that people can, ideally, feel safe at while not crossing moral or ethical boundaries. The ads used to publicise the installation don't quite go as planned. Also, someone robs Christian, and he puts note under everyone's door at an apartment building accusing them of being the robber. One of the residents, a young boy, gets into trouble with his parents after Christian falsely accuses him of being the robber. Meanwhile, he has a sexually-charged affair with a reporter, Anne (Elizabeth Moss).

      Bold, bizarre, and outrageously funny, The Square makes a very provocative, perceptive and bleak critique of mankind's decay along with its selfishness and shallowness. However, the screenplay by writer/director Ruben Östlund gets repetitive, though, after a while, while hammering its messages over and over and over. The message behind Christian's instillation is quite clear from the get-go, so to have it repeated so often makes it seem like the filmmaker doesn't trust the audience's intelligence enough. At least he trusts the audience's patience, though. Tighter editing would have allowed to film to flow without dragging; some scenes feel too much like filler. A dinner scene with a very off-the-wall interruption goes on for too long, for instance, while belaboring its point.

      The satirical scenes, though, are quite quite captivating because of the ways that Östlund uses humor to shed light on harsh truths about humanity. When an artist (Dominic West) is interviewed on stage in front of an audience, an audience member with Tourette Syndrome continuously yells out obscenities like "Show us your tits!" which results in laughter, but that leads us to question ourselves whether or not we really ought to be laughing at someone suffering from a mental disorder instead of showing compassion. It's an awkward, guilty sort of laughter even though comedy does often derive from tragedy. There are a few other instances of similarly uncomfortable humor throughout the film.

      At near 2-and-a-half hours, The Square is just as inspired and unpredictable as last year's Toni Erdmann. Both films have a long running time, a slow pace, deceptively simple plot, a hilarious yet awkward scene involving someone behaving like an animal, and a funny bit involving semen. Did I mention two brief scenes showing an ape with lipstick on? You'll have to see it to believe it.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Magnolia Pictures.
Opens October 27th, 2017 at IFC Center and Walter Reade Theater.


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Avi Offer
The NYC Movie Guru
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