Review: The Square is rambling satire of the art world

PUBLISHED: 10:52 16 March 2018

The Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial Eye

The Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial Eye


Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Oscar-nominated and Cannes Palme d’Or winning follow-up to Force Majeure, a satire set in the contemporary art world, is something of a mixed bag.

The Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial EyeThe Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial Eye

The Square (15)


Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s precise and detached style isn’t the least bit Fellini-esque but his latest - a rambling, episodic satire following a single figure through the upper, and occasionally the lower, echelons of society - is like a modern-day La Dolce Vita.

The Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial EyeThe Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial Eye

The Oscar-nominated satire, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is a series of vignettes centred around museum director Christian (Claes Bang) and its latest project, The Square, and his attempts to recover his phone after being pickpocketed.

He uses tracking software to exact revenge but this rash act of retaliation has unforeseen consequences for Christian and the people around him including famous artist Julian (Dominic West) and TV interviewer Anne (Elisabeth Moss). The chaos escalates at a patrons’ dinner inside the museum where a renowned performance artist called Oleg (Terry Notary) takes method acting to the limit as he roams among the wealthy guests in the guise of an untamed gorilla.

Bang makes for a marvellous Mastroianni: a perfect composite of a contemporary art figure, a slick mixture of artistry and commerce. It’s a compelling performance, which is just as well as he’s really the only figure in it. The “name” performers are really just cameos.

The Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial EyeThe Square. Photo: Curzon Artificial Eye

There’s little in the way of plot. The Square is a space in the museum courtyard which is “a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.”

The film Square is a meditation on how the socially responsible liberal intelligentsia try to apply their values to a lifestyle that is entirely callous and materialistic; how they square making a living from being professionally concerned with being largely indifferent.

Östlund made his name as a visual stylist, with a detached, cold approach and innovative camera angles. His style has gradually become less extreme, the invention less overt but his framing of an image is still wondrous. It is deadpan humorous but with a subtle menace. The scene where Christian has his wallet and phone stolen is beautifully executed but not showy; possibly you only realize how effective it was later, because its impact stays with you.

The film is full of memorable and striking moments but is something of a mixed bag. It is more ambitious than his previous effort Force Majeure but not as effective. It’s a little too loose, too meandering and sometimes a little obvious.

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