Square, The (2017)

Review #1,519

Director:  Ruben Ostlund
Cast:  Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West
Plot:  A poignant satirical drama reflecting our times - about the sense of community, moral courage and the affluent person's need for egocentricity in an increasingly uncertain world.

Genre:  Drama / Comedy
Awards:  Won Palme d'Or & Grand Technical Prize (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  142 mins
Rating:  M18 for language, some strong sexual content, and brief violence
International Sales:  Coproduction Office
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

“The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring.  Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.”

Winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival may have elevated the standing of Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, but the film in question, The Square, is good but not great.  In fact, his previous picture, Force Majeure (2014), is a much more precise and tighter film.  

Nevertheless, there’s enough in The Square to warrant a viewing, if not for some outrageous set-pieces (of the ‘to-be-seen-to-be-believed’ type), then for the filmmaker’s engagement with the intellect.  If there’s any kind of consistency to glean from both Force Majeure and The Square, it is Ostlund’s ability to conjure up a sense of awe amidst some seriously thought-provoking material.  

Christian (Claes Bang) is the head curator of a contemporary art museum who wants to introduce his next installation–“The Square”–to the public.  To combat public apathy towards helping strangers, the installation hopes to remind people to care and trust each other.  But Ostlund’s film is about mistrust and misunderstanding as scenarios occur that become out of Christian’s control.  

Trying to deal with work issues, including an overzealous American journalist, and overcome a personal attack, while being a divorced father of two restless kids, Christian’s purposeful if tumultuous journey as an upper-class lad is contrasted with the myriad of beggars that adorn the streets and malls, whose lives are more transient.  The class mistrust and divide, and the sheer lack of social justice are two of the film’s underlying themes, setting the tone for an existential meditation on modern living.

Can art really do something for the world?  Christian believes it can, and through his museum, he hopes to bring people together to talk about themselves.  At times bitingly funny in its satirical portrayal of apathy, quasi-intellectualism, art and the media, The Square is smart and absurd in equal measure.  

Despite excellent all-round performances that carry the viewer till the end, Ostlund’s film is not without its portions of poor pacing in what is an overdrawn and pompous affair.  I think it is fair to say that if The Square could talk, one would suspect it is only interested in talking about its bloated self, which may not necessarily be a bad thing to some.   

Verdict:  Ostlund once again engages with the intellect, but this is an overdrawn satirical drama with absurdist elements that is less than the sum of its parts.  





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