The Square

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The Square
The Square

This clever comedy from the Swedish director of 'Force Majeure' offers art-world satire alongside bigger questions to do with how we behave towards others

The title of this supremely fresh, witty and thought-provoking new film by Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund ('Force Majeure') refers mainly to a new exhibit on display at a museum of contemporary art: a neon-bordered bit of brick flooring of some 16 square metres described by its creator as ‘a sanctuary of trust and caring’ where we all ‘share equal rights and obligations’. But the word might also refer to the city square Christian – the museum’s head curator – is crossing when he becomes the victim of a scam that relieves him of his wallet and phone. To recover them he’s reluctantly persuaded by an assistant to adopt a strategy which has unexpected consequences not only for himself but for colleagues and even complete strangers.

Then there’s possibly a third meaning to the title, since the film is about different sorts of metaphorical space. As we follow the intelligent, pleasant, perfectly well-intentioned Christian (Claes Bang in a nicely judged performance) in his increasingly difficult dealings with the press – notably an American journalist played by Elisabeth Moss – the museum’s marketing department, sponsors, artists (one played by Dominic West), his daughters and the aforementioned strangers, the film explores the limits of responsibility, culpability, connectivity, even humanity. (There’s some fascinating stuff to do with primates, although it's best not to ruin that surprise.)

It’s one thing for a well-off liberal to wax lyrical about equality, community, a fair society and so on, but how far do our responsibilities really extend towards others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves? Where does our own particular ‘square’ end and the surrounding infinity that is the lives of others begin?

Östlund’s film deals, then, with questions similar to those found in Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s 'Code Unknown' (and, to a lesser degree, 'Hidden'). Stylistically, however, it could not be more different. With its story built out of substantial but discrete blocks, many of them notable for their bone-dry humour, it sometimes calls to mind the dark comedies of Östlund’s fellow Swede Roy Andersson, albeit with a less surreally heightened visual style. (That said, Östlund’s sophisticated play with squares and other shapes throughout the movie – as when Christian, fearing chaos after he loses his daughters in a shopping mall, is shown trapped in a web of diagonal staircases – subtly enhances its themes.) If the film has any flaw, it could be that it juggles too many good ideas. But why complain about that?

By: Geoff Andrew

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Release details

Duration: 0 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Ruben Östlund
Screenwriter: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Claes Bang
Elisabeth Moss
Dominic West
Terry Notary

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2.5 / 5

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LiveReviews|4
2 people listening

Fantastic. Crying with laughter at various points throughout. I'm going to see it again.


I love art house films but this is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen! Pretentious, boring and not thought provoking in any way (even though it is supposed to be). Do not waste your money or time.

Tastemaker

The film certainly raises a few very poignant questions and dares to challenge some stalwart assumptions about political correctness. Could it be that too much of a good thing is a bad thing? Doesn’t polite-correctness if taken a step too far become self-censorship and thus, as any kind of censorship, infringes on freedom of speech? It’s telling the story takes place in Sweden - perhaps the most absurdly polite-correct nation of them all. Does polite-correctness actually mean anything if under its veneer we are still prejudiced against refugees? As in when the main character, a director of a modern art museum, freaks out when he finds himself in a predominantly Middle Eastern populated block of flats.

And this finally brings me to the biggest issue of the film. The story is set in the modern art world and addresses our relationship with modern art, its idiosyncrasies (as in is it already art if it’s in a museum?) and sensationalism. Yet it’s telling I’m mentioning the central theme of The Square only now. There’s just too much going on. Too many (however poignant) questions are raised. Sure, some moments made me laugh out loud. The acting is great and cinematography is really good (most of the shots leave you with a lingering sense of discomfort, which is, of course, the point). Yet ultimately The Square is at least half an hour too long. There’s nothing worse than watching an essentially great movie and at some undefinable moment starting thinking ‘when is it gonna finally end?’


Lousy film I find it difficult to understand where's but the special effects is wonderful but still I find the plot difficult to understand it didn't make any sense at all