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Elisabeth Moss on life seeming to imitate art in satirical comedy "The Square"

This image released by Magnolia Pictures shows Elisabeth Moss in a scene from "The Square." THE CANADIAN PRESS/ AP-Magnolia Pictures via AP
November 02, 2017 - 2:06 PM

TORONTO - Even if it wasn't intentional, there's a fleeting moment early in Swedish director Ruben Ostlund's film "The Square" that immediately evokes the debate over tearing down Confederate monuments.

In the scene, European engineers are standing outside a contemporary art museum as an aged war statue they're removing from its pedestal suddenly rips from its crane harness and plummets to the ground.

During an interview at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, "Mad Men" actress Elisabeth Moss confronted the parallels and reassessed how audiences might now view the scene differently. "The Square" debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May, long before tearing down monuments entered the mainstream conversation.

Originally, the scene with the damaged monument was considered a snide jab at the art world, which is replacing the historical statue with a buzzworthy new exhibit. Now it's hard not to get distracted by similarities with real-world footage of U.S. monuments being torn down.

"I did not equate the two," Moss acknowledged during a recent interview. "But you're absolutely right."

The scene gives the satire of modern culture a biting new feeling of timeliness. Moss said Ostlund's taste for directing stories deeply entrenched in the sphere of social politics attracted her to the film, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

She saw his style first in his Oscar-nominated film "Force Majeure," about a man who makes alarming choices and abandons his family when an avalanche hits their vacation spot in the French Alps.

"Reuben makes films that don't hit you over the head with their relevance," she said.

"He explores humanity in all of its messiness and grey areas."

"The Square" puts Moss in the role of a journalist charmed by a Swedish art museum director (played by Claes Bang) as he struggles to support purposeful art. His latest vision is an altruistic neon-lit installation piece from which the film derives its name. It assumes the physical space of the torn down monument.

The Emmy-winning star of "The Handmaid's Tale" joined the film shoot late in the process, which left her little time to get accustomed to Ostlund's working style. He casts mostly amateur actors and is known for charging through dozens of takes until he's happy.

"You can show up in the morning and see a scene, come back later and see it at the end and it's a completely different scene," she said.

"I've never worked like that."

Adapting to his modus operandi wasn't easy, Moss acknowledged, but reaching the finish line was rewarding.

"Even if it took 12 hours to get there it feels great," she said.

"As challenging and terrible as it was sometimes, I would do it again in a heartbeat."

"The Square" opens Friday in Toronto before rolling out in Vancouver on Nov. 10 and both Calgary and Halifax on Nov. 17. Additional dates in Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg are planned.

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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