The Square

Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Directed by Ruben Östlund

Nov 06, 2017 Web Exclusive
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A wealthy museum curator is pickpocketed in broad daylight. Using GPS on his phone, he tracks his phone and wallet to a large housing project. Not knowing where specifically in the building, he drafts a letter instructing the thief to return his belongings to a nearby Seven Eleven. After a bit of reticence in entering the project, he goes in and distributes the letter to each unit. Surprisingly, the Seven Eleven receives his wallet and phone within days, but they also receive correspondence from others upset that his original letter implied they were thieves. Namely a young boy, who has been punished by his parents. He demands an apology. Because the museum curator feels he owes no such thing, the child promising to “create chaos” for the man.

What’s been described here so far is plot, but at over two and a half hours, this really isn’t a plotty film. The majority centers around the cultivation and curation of modern art, as when part of a dirt exhibition is accidentally cleaned up by a janitor. Or when a performance artist pretending to be an uncaged gorilla wreaks havoc on a dinner party. The curator is oddly cynical towards his exhibitions, saying something to the effect that art has more to do with context - a handbag placed in the corner of the museum could be an exhibition. The film seems to imply the same principle could be applied to people.

Ruben Östlund’s follow-up to his incredible Force Majeure is another barb against bourgeois Europeans. It certainly impressed the jury at Cannes Film Festival, who awarded the film The Palm D’or. But Force Majeure’s careful dissection of high society was honest in its satire and simple in its execution, creating a scenario that raised pointed questions about human instinct versus who we are and we are expected to be. The Square is less conceptual, but offers similar wit and craftsmanship within the scenes. It has plenty to say about things ranging from philanthropy to free speech, which is also its biggest problem--the approach is far too broad and scattershot to create anything sustainable or worth the sum of its screen time. The satire is nearly as specific, often leaning on tired, sophomoric tropes to lampoon its targets. To be clear, the film is definitely more good than bad, but Östlund has set a high bar for himself, and this could have been a lot more by being a lot less.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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