The Square Screen 28 articles

The Square


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  • With a strong and humorous opening, The Square quickly loses its wit as it descends into aimless anger and condescension. . . . But while the film’s opening satirises the bourgeois art world, its edge is blunted by a constant mockery of everyone and everything.

  • The Square is a satire of the art-world in all its overblown inanity and as a satire it accomplishes little more than leaving a few dead fish in a barrel, but I thought the best way to appreciate it—or to rationalize it—is as a multi-roomed art exhibit itself. . . . For me, The Square had more hits than misses, but as a social satire I’ll admit it did seem rather glib.

  • Claes Bang gives an exceptional comic and dramatic performance as Christian, the long-suffering, hapless director of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm. The movie is a wild, suspenseful satire of the art world that's also a cringe comedy: Östlund, the audacious provocateur who most recently gave us FORCE MAJEURE, a withering comedy of manners about masculinity, cheerfully accepts a definition of his aesthetic as a cross between Larry David and Michael Haneke.

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    Film Comment: Michael Koresky
    November 03, 2017 | November/December 2017 Issue (pp. 31-35)

    Upon this by-definition blank slate, Östlund will build his precarious tower of a social critique, in which warring elements—narrative, visual, aural—are increasingly balanced upon one another until it's about to topple . . .This would all seem to fall in line with recent trends in art-film satire . . . yet The Square is an altogether looser affair, finding ways to shimmy around its stuffy setting rather than feeling trapped in it.

  • The conceptual-fish-in-a-barrel potshots at contemporary art alternate with an ostensible critique of masculinity and privilege, building to a climax that endorses a compassion that’s mealy-mouthed and insufficient. For all the skill and polish on display, “The Square” is never anything beyond facile and pleased with itself. It says something unsettling about the times that the Palme d’Or was awarded this year at Cannes to a work so flat-out reactionary.

  • Whether puckish, wry, dry, coy, or cold, these images offer, above all, the conspicuous restraint of aesthetic nonintervention, of falsely bland repudiation of visual expression, as if to let the facts onscreen speak for themselves. But the actual artistic point of these satires on bourgeois comfort and sophistication is a visual simplicity that matches the dramas’ repudiations of technological, intellectual, and bureaucratic modernity.

  • This movie is more sprawling than Ostlund's last feature, the superb 2014 Force Majeure, but he's still an engaging mischief-maker. The title may in fact be a winking work of nonrepresentational art itself. A square has a defined border. The movie Ostlund has made is adamantly open-ended. There are no right angles and no right answers.

  • The art world is a soft target for satire, not least because the art world’s appetite for satire of itself is limitless... It’s unreasonable to expect any satire of the art world to be fresh, since knowingness is the first requirement to get in the door. The Square won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this spring not because it lashes the art world in a new way, but because Östlund delivers his lashings so exquisitely.

  • It all manages, despite its efforts to appear otherwise, to fall just short of genuine self-excoriation. This being a movie about the art world and the upper crust, it’s in some ways a movie about Östlund himself. Yet the director somehow manages not to get caught under his own microscope. I walked away from the movie both times thinking, “So, then, what about this movie?” He’s a good enough director to distract you from that for most of the movie’s two-hour-and-32-minute runtime, however.

  • Among its many virtues, The Square is a funny movie. The video that the viral gurus create, featuring a homeless girl and a ticking clock, offers one of the biggest laughs of the year. And Östlund is a master of the buzzkill, undercutting liberal piety and masculine vanity with relish... There is a tension here between that earnestness and Östlund’s rigorous, calculating mind that can be confounding—and, given the film’s subject, may in the end be poignant.

  • When left to its own devices, does humanity find equilibrium or does it disintegrate into aggressors and subjects? And just what does it take for us to come to others’ aid? Where do we draw the line between the individual and society? The Square has a remarkably clearheaded and streamlined way of asking these many questions, but the answers it provides are always tantalizingly unclear.

  • Where Force Majeure was a neater, tighter package with which to deliver an acerbic message, The Square is an atom bomb of ideas and observations. There is some frivolous debris to be found on site, but the core components are undeniably, unshakably recognizable. It holds a cracked mirror up to our current time, in a way that—remarkably—doesn't feel exaggerated nor likely to soon become dated.

  • While Östlund's mastery of visually amplifying social unease is still very much intact, he's partially undone here by his own thematic ambition, which, in scene after exquisitely staged scene, threatens to put too fine a point on otherwise thrillingly indeterminate situational comedy.

  • Not for me the smug admonishments of The Square, Swedish director Ruben Östlund's Palme d'Or-winning follow-up to 2014's Force Majeure. This is a similar dissection of bourgeois politesse and hypocrisy, as well as a broadside (truly stunning in its haughty vapidity) against the modern art world, which, so the film sneeringly implies, is populated to a one with pretentious douchenozzles.

  • Östlund otherwise replicates much the same structure as his Force Majeurewithout that film’s narrative economy, allowing a hip curator’s act of moral cowardice to snowball out of control before a by-now familiar backdrop of excruciation, cynicism, and antiseptic surfaces.

  • A rambunctious lark, puerile and playful, and too often given to moralistic explanation. It works more as a series of provocations eliciting a wide range of audience responses than a diatribe on inequality, but the always ambitious Östlund wants to have it both ways.

  • If there was a non-Hong Palme to be had in the bunch, though, the jury could have done worse than to give it to The Square—a self-reflexive work that is as much about cinema as it is about art—which at least had some ambition and a number of immediately indelible scenes, even if they were encased in a flabby package of repetition where nearly every scene runs too long, creating a film that, eventually, becomes too obvious and overdetermined.

  • It's a film with plenty on its mind, tweaking art-world pretensions and liberal pieties, exploring the gap between belief and action, contemplating the relationship between the individual and the collective—all over a 140-minute duration that some found excessive. (Distended running times were a problem across the board, likely a factor of rush edits.) The film proceeds in fits and starts, constantly revising and complicating its ideas, veering in tone from jocular to sober and back.

  • In terms of my own personal tastes, I think my favourite would probably be Ruben Östlund’s The Square; it’s a little frayed at the edges, but its only real fault is a surfeit of intelligent ideas, and it is often breathtakingly imaginative – and funny and haunting and relevant.

  • Much of this is funny, some of it clever, though only rarely does the film get as unsettling as Östlund’s previous studies of societal deterioration... Let’s set aside the fact that the art world has been isodied, and has parodied itself, to such an extent that even the film’s best-tuned gags can feel familiar. More tiresome is that Östlund, in targeting liberal Swedish guilt, all too often evokes a disgruntled middle-aged man’s cynicism about contemporary values of sensitivity and tolerance.

  • A few other filmmakers appear to be trying to make their own Haneke movie, including Ruben Ostlund (“The Square”) and Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”)... Mr. Ostlund takes too long to get to his point, but there’s genuine playfulness amid his finger-wagging that makes the lessons more bearable than they are in “Sacred Deer,” which stars Colin Farrell as the surgeon and Nicole Kidman as his wife.

  • Savage attacks on the bourgeoisie make up some of the best sequences in Cannes this year (and at an event that insists on black tie in the evenings!). It’s almost as if Luis Buñuel has come back to be the guiding spirit. No film has been more innovative or biting in this regard than Ruben Östlund’s chaos curio The Square. It makes a game of consequences out of the plot after self-important smoothie art gallerist Christian (Claes Bang) is the victim of a pickpocketing scam.

  • The film only really works when it’s funny, though it’s rarely as funny as it thinks it is. Its shots at contemporary art are mostly clichéd (yes, artspeak is convoluted and pretentious) and facile (sure, if you put basically anything in an art gallery, it qualifies as art), and the inclusion of Östlund’s now-characteristic theme — performed civility as essentially at odds with our primal survival instincts — feels perfunctory and dis-integrated.

  • The metaphor of “The Square” lends itself to so many possible interpretations, so much so that from the first scene, the film floats the question of what is and isn't art. What is an image, after all, but what is and isn't in the frame? But whether The Square is a masterpiece or complete garbage (or both?), at the very least, it's a pleasure to see a talented, confident filmmaker so committed to thinking outside the box.

  • For all its immaculate polish, “The Square” turns out to be not a tidy exercise in clinical detachment but a ferocious drama of conscience. And for all the scorn it heaps upon Christian’s rarefied milieu, it’s entirely sincere in its acknowledgment that art — this movie itself being a thorny and fascinating example — can tell us things about ourselves we’d rather not know.

  • As Östlund keeps reworking largely similar ideas with ever more spite but dwindling vigour, the cumulative effect is an expression of condescending, all-embracing contempt. This is reinforced by Östlund’s penchant for wanting to have it both ways... He posits that individuals must take responsibility and work against discriminatory social constructs, yet when Christian does finally overcome his cowardice and attempts to do the right thing, all he achieves is further punishment.

  • Like Michael Haneke with a funny bone instead of a magnifying glass, Ruben Östlund’s vision of humanity is a bleak, almost faithless caricature of our most craven impulses. Nonetheless, there is truth in his perspective: art does inspire high-minded principles that mean nothing without real life application. It’s quite a message to send the world’s critics, and if his art does prove to be meaningless, then at least it is self-aware.

  • Broadening out Östlund's canvas from the family dynamics of his previous avalanche movie before slashing it to similarly precise shreds, “The Square” is made up of dozens of scenes of such perfect, short-story polish and bite that it almost feels like a vignette anthology rather than a feature. And yet, at least until an unfortunate slackening of pace and a slight dulling of edge toward the end of a long two hours and twenty minutes, the scathing sensibility remains a constant, dark delight.

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