Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West
Director: Ruben Östlund
Running Time: 151 mins
The Square is a Swedish film about a curator at a prestigious modern art gallery who finds himself in crisis after he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit.
Ruben Östlund, director of the stunning Force Majeure, is a man who can bring about both hilarious and fiercely riveting and timely films. The Square aims to do all of that, and goes to extreme lengths to be as good as can be, but ultimately exhausts itself to the point where things just aren’t as thrilling. Although a visually impressive work complete with great performances, The Square is a film that will have you both laughing and fully intrigue at first, but over the course of its excessive runtime, will eventually lose the ingenuity and bite that should have been central from beginning to end.
However, let’s start with what really works well about this film. When it’s on form (particularly in the opening half), The Square is an absolutely hilarious satire. One of its opening scenes alone is a striking and ambitious way to kick the film off, but it’s done with a brilliant sense of humour that makes it just as funny to watch as it is strangely unnerving, a theme that continues through the film’s best comedic moments.
As a result, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at some of the strangest things, as Östlund manages to craft a film that’s so confident in its pure bizarreness that you won’t be able to avoid enjoying and laughing at some of its most outlandish moments, something I found absolutely thrilling and massively entertaining early on.
What’s more, however, is that this isn’t just a comedy, because it’s a satire that’s got real brains and fantastic confidence. As a result, as funny and laugh-out-loud as some of its strangest moments are, its greatest achievement of all is actually the way in which it pokes fun at the world of modern art, and the elites who inhabit it, proving a consistently riveting and controversial enough central theme that works really well from beginning to end.
And in that, the film is brilliantly self-aware of all of its pretenses. As much as it makes fun of how uppity and stupid the modern art world can be at times, it also makes brilliant fun of itself and its own pretentious elements, a brilliantly entertaining and extremely satisfying premise that proved a brilliant addition of depth to the whole affair.
Along with the humour and satire, the film also succeeds thanks to some great performances. Claes Bang is brilliant in the lead role, normal enough for us to relate to and follow coherently, and yet with enough quirks for you to believe his bizarre fall into crisis over the course of the film. He’s a strong central presence throughout, but some of the supporting turns from Elisabeth Moss, Christopher Læssø and Terry Notary are just as strong in crafting the film’s bizarre blend of uneasy drama and intensely strange comedy and satire.
Also, The Square is an absolutely beautiful-looking film. Much like the pristine Force Majeure, Ruben Östulnd triumphs with a very simple yet sleek visual style that has some bizarrely hypnotic qualities, with very flat and simple shots that draw you into every scene far more than overly complex camerawork, which I absolutely adored throughout.
However, the big problem that I have with The Square is that it’s a film that really overstays its welcome. It’s never a bad film, but at 151 minutes long, and following a story whose central themes and characters are fully developed about two-thirds of the way through, it doesn’t manage to prove fully riveting or entertaining all the way through.
It’s got great intelligence and humour, but it all feels a little repetitive come the end of two and a half hours, something that had a major impact on my intrigue and enjoyment of the film as a whole, which was a real shame to see.
Overall, then, it’s fair to say that The Square isn’t an orthodox film, but one that’s strange and unique enough to thrill and entertain you at points, furthered by its great performances and visuals, even if it eventually hangs around far too long for everything to feel just as sharp and unique as its brilliant opening, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.