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Review: The Square

November 3, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, and the winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, The Square is an entertaining satire of the post-modern art world, that holds nothing back in its sendup of the pretentious and often ridiculous things that are celebrated within the contemporary art scene.

The film follows Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a modern art museum in Sweden.  When we first meet him in The Square, he is being interviewed by an American journalist (Elizabeth Moss) and struggling to make sense of his own words which are being read back to him.

Christian is in the process of putting on a new exhibition called the Square – which is a literal square of light outside the museum that is meant to symbolize a space where we can all be safe – while also navigating the fallout of having his wallet and iPhone stolen, and dealing with a viral marketing campaign gone horribly wrong.

The film does feel a bit long at 143 minutes, and without much of a formal plot to back it up, it sometimes feels more like a series of set-pieces rather than a cohesive narrative whole.  Because of its somewhat scattershot nature, the film also lacks some of the precision and sheer force that made Ruben Östlund’s 2014 film Force Majeure such a knockout.  But The Square is never less than entertaining as a whole, and the film is filled with plenty of pleasures of its own.

The various elements that make up the film are often brilliantly pulled off on their own terms, including a standout sequence involving an unnerving and awkwardly hilarious dinner theatre performance that we can’t take our eyes off of.  It’s the provocative and unpredictable nature of sequences like this that make The Square so entertaining to watch, and the film is bolstered by stunning cinematography and perfectly pitched performances.  I’m already looking forward to watching it again.

The Square is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival.

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