REVIEW: The Square (2017)

Theatrical Release Poster – Magnolia Pictures

The following is a review of The Square — Directed by Ruben Östlund.

Had you told me in the beginning of the year that a Swedish film about a Dane looking for his stolen smartphone while he has to take part in discussions about the amorphous nature of ‘the exhibitable’ at an art museum, then I probably wouldn’t have known whether to laugh or cry.

My reaction as I was watching the movie was, honestly, a blend of the two. I found myself crying with laughter as a previously fairly unknown Danish actor was up there on the screen arguing with an Emmy-winning actress about what to do with a used condom.

Ruben Östlund’s The Square — the Palme d’Or winning film, which has been selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language-category at the 90th Academy Awards — revolves around Christian Juel Nielsen (played by Claes Bang), a Danish museum director who manages the fictional X-Royal Museum in Sweden.

When Christian becomes the victim of a confidence trick and thus loses his smartphone, his wallet, and his grandfather’s cufflinks, Christian becomes too focused on getting his phone back to properly focus on his job. Meanwhile, at the museum, advertising agents suggest a controversial ad-campaign for the museum’s newest art piece ‘the Square,’ which an unfocused Christian signs off on.

The Square is a terrific thematically rich social satire, which features everything from a tug-of-war over a used condom to a large-scale exhibition of performance art, in which the incredible Terry Notary — who is known best for providing motion capture work for Kong in Kong: Skull Island and Rocket in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy — gets to show off impressive ape-movements in a surprising setting. It is, by far, the most memorable scene in the film.

Claes Bang is, as previously mentioned, an unknown actor outside of Denmark, and, heck, even in Denmark he’s not a household name. Within Denmark’s borders, he is primarily known for his appearances in popular Danish television shows. But with The Square, Bang is making a name for himself. The fairly unknown Danish actor gives a true powerhouse performance, and, as a Dane, it is extremely pleasing to see him succeed on the biggest stage for cinephiles.

Bang is effortlessly charming as Christian, but his character has a tendency to bloviate using platitudes that he hasn’t spent enough time memorizing. In The Square, his particular predicament forces the character to have his social mask obliterated as the carefully constructed so-called ‘familiar face’ is revealed for all to see as self-important and easily torn down.

The film does have issues, though. The film is about ten or fifteen minutes too long, in my opinion. I also thought the ending was somewhat underwhelming. Yet, all in all, Ruben Östlund’s The Square is an absurd and intelligent laugh-out-loud takedown of everything from political correctness to narcissistic privileged individuals. Comedic social satire doesn’t get much better than this.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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