The Square (2017)


Directed by Ruben Ostlund
Country: Sweden / other

Swedish director Ruben Ostlund bows to ambition in “The Square”, a satirical drama put together with exquisite shots and packed with characters whose incredible behaviors range from comical to earnest to contrived, and sometimes a combination of those. Even with his filmmaking style transfigured for this work, Ostlund didn’t achieve the emotional fierceness of his first couple of dramas, “Involuntary” and “Play”, as well as the objectivity of his latest “Force Majeure”.

Nonetheless, the big winner of Cannes has been conquering many fans with a semi-articulate fusion of deadpan humor, weirdness, and unexpectedness while focusing on themes such as global tolerance and responsiveness toward others, guilt and honor, ego and defeat, and both the influence and the potential dangers of the communication in general, and the social media in particular.

Deploying clean, Nordic-style visuals, Ostlund attempts to examine modern life in our days, with all the personal, professional, and technological implications associated with a civilized community. However, over the course of its drifting 2.5 hours, the film embraces a few outlandish situations that keep oscillating between morally disturbing and irreverently ludicrous. It’s like finding an intersection point between the social mordancy of Roy Andersson's comedy-dramas and the lightest version of Quentin Dupioux’s absurdities. 


The story was partly inspired by an authentic art installation that both the filmmaker and the renowned producer, Kalle Bolman, had made, and develops into the multiple crises in the life of Christian (Claes Bang), the hypocrite chief curator of a major Swedish art museum. When not working on the publicity of a brand new installation entitled ‘The Square’, a piece described as ‘a sanctuary of trust and caring where, within it, we all share equal rights and obligations’, Christian is taking care of his two daughters or is attempting to locate his stolen cell phone with the help of a geeky employee or is having hot if casual sex with Anne (Elisabeth Moss), a weird interviewer who lives with a chimpanzee and insists on collecting the man's condom after having fun. Among a few unexpected scenes, including a man with Tourette's syndrome disturbing an interview and a terrified woman screaming for help in the middle of the street, there is one that deserves to be highlighted, involving an extremist performance artist named Oleg (Terry Notary) who, pretending to be a wild ape, actually attacks people during a museum’s meeting.

Regardless its long duration and wacky side, there are genius moves and several engrossing parts in “The Square”, a film that pushes boundaries by infusing lifelike sequences occasionally peppered with surreal allure.