After Turist (2014), I didn’t think the Swedish director Ruben Östlund could come up with anything more challenging for his audience, but his latest satirical drama The Square is even more poignant. It dares us to question our moral values and sense of community. The Square definitely is one of 2017’s favourites after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May and several other awards and nominations.
The Square tells the story of the charismatic Christian (Claes Bang), a curator at a contemporary arts museum. He is a divorced father of 2 daughters, drives a Tesla and seems to be a respectful man supporting good causes. His next exposition is ‘The Square’, an initiative to invite passers-by to meditate on their responsibility as a human being and a part of society. But Christian fails to maintain the ideals himself after he gets robbed. His response to the theft is so foolish that he gets dragged in awkward and sometimes immoral situations. In the meantime, the campaign for ‘The Square’ puts him and the museum in a critical position.
The film has a duration of 142 minutes, which is quite long, but it never feels that way while watching. Personally, I was pleased with the extremely strong scenario written by Östlund himself. It contains poignant dialogues, which are not too heavy, but light and accessible. They have a natural flow, which keeps you attentive at all times. Östlund even creates moments of pure identification or catharsis. Like for example when Christian has a one night stand with the pushy journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss, known for the popular series Mad Men and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise), which results in one of the most awkward, but hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen. Even afterwards when she questions whether the physical has emotional consequences, you can simply feel the awkwardness coming out of the screen.
Even how absurd or extreme the situation gets, Östlund never loses touch with the visual aesthetics. His cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel, who he also worked with on Turist, manages to captivate you and drag you into the narrative. The framing is exquisite as if you’re looking at separate photographs; the establishing shots, the close-ups,… all look like pictures in an art book. To conclude, The Square is almost flawless with its cinematography and light perfectly tuned.
Östlund manages to hit the soft spot by pointing his audience at our increasingly uncertain world and the matter of egocentricity when human relationships become more and more slight. Along with its strong visuals and thumping soundtrack, The Square is a skilful and in your face-kind of film, worth winning the Palme d’Or.
The Square will be released in Belgium on November 22.
Check the website for more information.