The Square (Sweden – 2017)

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for Cinetalk.net

Our series on Oscar contenders continues…

When the nominees for the 90th Academy Awards will be announced, next January, Cannes’ Palm d’Or, Ruben Östlund’s The Square, will probably be one of the lucky five in the ‘Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film’ category.

After humble beginnings with intriguing contemporary low budget character (and behavior) studies, Gitarrmongot (2004), Involuntary (De Ofrivilliga, 2008) and Play (2011), Östlund hit it big on the festival circuit in 2014 with the celebrated Force Majeure (Turist). A career build up that led to this more sophisticated new opus.

In the acerbic comedy-drama, The Square, Christian, a big time modern art museum curator in Stockholm, faces crisis on multiple fronts, both professionally and personally. By trying to create controversy, the young public relation team of the museum get plenty of what they asked for. Too much of it. And while trying to handle the situation, getting out of control, Christian must also face the consequences of a personal little vengeance gone wrong as well as his scheduled unavailability toward a new and unstable relationship with Anne, a young art reporter falling for him.

The Square is obviously a contemporary metaphor on communication. It is segmented into vignettes-like episodes, part of a sole story. We follow the lead into three major events gone wrong. It lays on the depiction of the lack of implication (and abuse of his high position) by the main character to illustrate peoples isolation in the modern (Art) world as a micro society.

Right from the opening The Square sets the tone to offer pretty solid and cynical sequences. In an interview Anne asks Christian to explain a statement about a piece in the museum and his answer makes no sense at all. When confronted to a ‘performance’ by a resident artist, at an opening turned violent, the embarrassed crowd takes its time before finally giving proper response to what has become an obvious ‘in your face’ act of aggression.

More sophisticated than his previous efforts (excluding Turist), owing much, in some of its best assets, to the cinema of fellow countryman (and modern genius) Roy Anderson (Songs From The Second Floor, We the Living, etc), The Square, unfortunately, is more lightly satirical and episodic than it looks in the first place. It is ultimately not the ferocious attack it should, being more of a harmless kitten than a tiger.  It is loaded with ideas, in a collage about modern issues, introducing various appealing themes and discomfort, but it does not add much original criticism about the art community (that the director obviously loves) or even society. It takes a long, long way to make a simple point, then, the final nails in the coffin just never come on any front. The open ends of Östlund’s previous works doesn’t work at all here.

The Square is an inconclusive, but partially charming, piece of pretentious film making. But it won the Palme d’Or…

 

 

 

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