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The Square - Film Review

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by Nicholas Gordon (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in Sydney.
Published February 15th 2018
The art-world satire that wowed Cannes

"The Square" in Ruben Ostlund's film refers to an actual square: it's an art installation by an Argentinean artist designed for the forecourt of a Swedish art museum. The museum is headed by Christian (Claes Bang), a distinguished curator. But it's in the run-up to the unveiling of "The Square" that things start to go awry in Christian's glamorous life.

As Christian is walking to work one morning, a hysterical woman pleads for help: someone is trying to kill her. She corrals a fellow commuter who asks Christian for backup. Both men come to the aid of the woman as the attacker rushes up. He backs off; crisis averted. Christian walks off, stopping only when he realises his phone, wallet and cufflinks have been stolen during the ruse. Later Christian tracks his phone on his laptop, finally seeing it come to rest in a building in a dodgy part of Stockholm. Encouraged by an underling, Christian drops letters at the building demanding the return of his possessions. The plan, astonishingly, works and Christian receives his stuff back. But his foray outside his normal world doesn't go completely smoothly.

Meanwhile, creating publicity for "The Square" has fallen to two millennials insistent not on standard marketing procedures, but by creating something that will go viral. They succeed spectacularly at that also (the details are just too bizarre to explain), creating many more headaches for Christian. There's a strange liaison with an American journalist (Elisabeth Moss), and more problems when a performance by an artist whose speciality is mimicking a wild animal goes horribly amiss at a glitzy dinner. The upshot? Christian's comfortable existence is in danger of total collapse.

The Square, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, is a darkly funny film, pillorying everything from the pomposity of modern art to the hypocrisy of the upper classes. Modern art is the chief target - the current exhibition at the museum features small, symmetrically arranged piles of gravel overlooked by a sign that says, 'you have nothing'.

But the film is not just about art. Christian's trip to the wrong side of town in pursuit of his stolen possessions leads to many problems, some real and some imagined. And it's these events that concern much of the film. It's also where the film's weakness lies: so many things happening (or possibly happening) but not drawn together, with many strands discarded by the end.

There is still plenty to like here. The sheer weirdness of some of the events that happen to Christian are very funny and told cleverly. There are also some wonderfully composed segments - the agonisingly long scene with the performance artist at the gala dinner is excruciating to watch, but memorising and brilliant just the same. Christian's fall isn't perfect but it's worth seeing.

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*Nicholas Gordon was invited as a guest
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Why? For a Swedish art-world satire
When: In cinemas from March 1
Where: Selected cinemas nationally
Cost: Check with cinema
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by Olga Junek on 14/02/2018
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