Magazine article Screen International

'The Square': Cannes Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Square': Cannes Review

Article excerpt

A museum director's life goes downhill in the wake of a PR stunt designed to promote a piece of performance art called The Square.

Dir/scr Ruben Östlund. Sweden, Germany, France, Denmark. 2017. 142 mins.

Ruben Östlund certainly doesn't rest on his laurels. The Swedish director's follow-up to his breakout feature, Force Majeure, is easily his most ambitious film yet. Taking well-aimed potshots at the contemporary art world and the attention-grabbing PR industry, it also raises questions of trust, responsibility and the increasing moral insulation of people in advanced societies.

This is a sprawling, original satirical drama with moments of both dark and light comedy, and one standout scene involving a performance artist monkeying around at a gala dinner. It's the 'sprawling' bit that will test audiences who let the Force Majeure be with them. As an inventive, thought-provoking reflection on our times, and as an audacious audiovisual album with some great tracks on it, The Square delivers. As a drama, however, it packs several great punches that somehow don't add up to a whole fight.

At times this feels like a brilliant series of bravado sketches and set pieces, often relying on disruptive elements – like the Tourette's sufferer who yells insults during a marvellously funny and uncomfortable museum talk given by a contemporary artist played by Dominic West.

Force Majeure was a needle-sharp deconstruction of human (mostly male) self-deception. The Square takes on some of those same male foibles and subterfuges – mostly in the character of Christian Nielsen, the gradually unravelling museum director played with gusto and finesse by Danish actor Claes Bang (familiar to fans of Scandi crime series The Bridge). But Christian's story is used as a peg for all sorts of themes and variations, characters and cameos, making for a deliberately messier, more open-ended experience – something reflected in the film's often jazzy, freestyle way with narrative continuity.

First presented via an interview with Anne, an American journalist played gamely by Elisabeth Moss, Christian is revealed to be a smooth operator, an art-world manager and schmoozer who is nevertheless a committed believer in the power of contemporary art to shock, move and encourage reflection. Even, perhaps, to effect social change: that's the idea of The Square, a new installation that his publicly-funded Stockholm museum is due to present. …

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