The Square
Directed by Ruben Östlund
Written by Ruben Östlund
2017/Sweden / Germany / France / Denmark

In 2014, Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund took aim at masculinity and bourgeois hypocrisy through the prism of one man’s overriding self-interest in his black farce Force Majeure; with his Palme d’Or-winning The Square, he broadens his attack. Taking on the art world, postmodernism, austerity, viral internet culture, and, yes, masculinity and bourgeois hypocrisy, The Square attempts a much grander project than its predecessor, and it’s to Östlund’s credit that most of it works.

Set in an alternate Sweden where the monarchy has been abolished and its headquarters, the Stockholm Palace, has been replaced with an art museum, The Square centers on Christian (Claes Bang), the chief curator of said museum. Christian is presiding over the unveiling and promotion of a major new piece – simply a neon square to be installed in the grounds outside the museum, meant to emblemize peace and solidarity. As he wrangles with how best to market a fairly innocuous exhibit, he also finds himself dealing (poorly) with being robbed, sleeping with an American art journalist (Elizabeth Moss, who gets the lion’s share of the film’s funniest material), and attending to other aspects of the work. The film is essentially structured as a set of tiny ethical dilemmas, akin to the opening sequence from Force Majeure only refracted into dozens of lower-stakes encounters, leading up to a final act in which the repercussions of Christian’s choices become clear.

Much as Force Majeure did, The Square runs out of steam in its final half-hour, having exhausted its themes and wrung all of the comic potential from Christian’s misadventures. Until that point, though, The Square is funny, savage, observant, and, in one sequence late in the film, surprisingly tense. Unlike some modern satirists, Östlund knows how to render his pathetic everymen *just* sympathetically enough to implicate the audience, while also avoiding tiresome finger-wagging. Maybe most impressively of all, Östlund is able to touch on a lot of pet themes without the movie feeling scattershot or unfocused, quietly making the case that the limits of postmodernism, late capitalism, traditional gender roles and online culture work in tandem to exacerbate some of our worst impulses.

Simon Howell

The 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival is held from 7 to 17 September 2017.

;

 

Simon is a roving writer and editor who has been crawling slowly Westward across Canada for the last decade. (He currently resides in Toronto.) He obtained a BFA in Film Studies from Concordia University in the spring of 2012 and a Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing from Algonquin College in 2015. He is a former co-host of the Televerse podcast. His favorite films include F for Fake, Brazil, Stroszek, The Fog of War, Grave of the Fireflies and In a Lonely Place. He can be found on Twitter (mostly yelling about far-left politics, ye been warned) at @hollowmines.

Leave a comment below.

Latest Posts

'Firstborn' succeeds in crafting a queasy portrait of a loveless couple trapped in marriage.

Fantastic Fest 2017: ‘Maus’ Is Horror As Education

Horror has long been an excellent vehicle for political messaging, though rarely as concise and direct as in 'Maus.'
thelma_4guide_web__large

Fantastic Fest 2017: ‘Thelma’ Spins A Magical Story Of Awakening

'Thelma' is accessible, deeply human film-making about the process of growth and slippery nature of identity.

‘Steamworld Dig 2’ Review: Fracking Fun and Hole-y Engrossing

A direct sequel to the 2013’s Steamworld Dig (and less direct sequel to 2015’s Steamworld Heist), Steamworld Dig 2 is developer Image & Form’s crowning achievement.

‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’: Which Story Arc Reigns Supreme?

What do muscular men flaunting flamboyance, outlandish superpowers, and villains bearing names that tribute popular musicians all have in common? They are all staple...

My First Experience With TIFF

Is the Toronto International Film Festival worth attending in person? You bet.

5 PlayStation Series We’d Love to See Return

With Sony in such a strong position at the moment and thus better placed than the competition to indulge in the odd passion project or two, wouldn’t now be the perfect time to revisit some of the platform’s former successes?
pokémon gold and silver

‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ Remain the Greatest Pokémon Games

Pokémon Gold and Silver remain the greatest Pokémon games made to this day.

Buffyversed #29: “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” Lets Its Hair Down and Just Has Fun

If the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer shows us anything, it's a renewed sense of confidence in itself. Like its characters, Buffy is a hell of a lot more sure of itself in its second year. particularly as the season goes on. While "Halloween" showed that this show was more than willing to get silly for an episode, "Bewitched, Bewildered and Bothered" doubles down on that to glorious effect.