European films

The Square film review: Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner is a five-star art-world satire

Starring Claes Bang and Elizabeth Moss, The Square is satire at its finest. Directed by Ruben Östlund, the universal film is a hilarious takedown of snobbery and elitism found in art circles

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 7:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 7:05am

5/5 stars

The opening of The Square, the art-world satire by Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund, observes the destruction of a historic statue and cobbled courtyard outside Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art – all to make way for “The Square”, the minimalist centrepiece of an expensive new exhibition.

The film, which won the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, follows Christian (Claes Bang), the museum’s curator, as he navigates various hurdles in the run-up to the show’s opening, while simultaneously attempting to retrieve his phone, stolen in an outrageous incident on the street. Östlund casts a cynical eye over modern art in a variety of forms, highlighting the objective absurdity of championing one arbitrary artwork over another.

In one of The Square’s most memorable sequences, a performance artist (Terry Notary), who behaves like an aggressive primate, gatecrashes a black-tie fundraiser and proceeds to physically intimidate the guests. At once this scene showcases the impressive talents of the artist, as well as the complete inability to appreciate it by a room of so-called patrons.

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Christian’s very existence is defined by his ability to recognise and dictate what has value. But his desperate efforts to reclaim his property – the mugging being a commendable performance art piece in itself – expose a man completely out of his depth in a contemporary, multicultural society, failing in his roles as a husband, father and compassionate member of society.

As in his previous film, Force Majeure , Östlund cuts to the heart of masculine fragility, scrutinising the exposed entrails with unflinching honesty. The Square, which also stars Elisabeth Moss as a television journalist and Dominic West as an artist, is satire at its finest and a hilarious takedown of snobbery and elitism.

The Square opens on March 1

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