The Square Dir: Ruben Ostlund


Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary

The New Zealand International Film Festival kicked off its 2017 season with exactly the type of film one wants to be exposed to. The Square is a sprawling, sometimes incoherent, often-times thought-provoking piece of filmmaking that almost demands to be seen.

The man behind the film is director Ruben Ostlund, whose previous film, 2014’s Force Majeure, was an unqualified success. The Square is more ambitious, but not quite so successful.

Rather than a traditional linear film with a plot driving the narrative, The Square feels more like a series of quasi-related scenes…many of which will stay with the viewer long after the lights go up.

As surreal and bizarre as some of these scenes appear to be, many are drawn from Ostlund’s personal experiences.

The film is based around the main character of Christian (Claes Bang) who is curator of a high-end art museum housed in a former palace. In addition to being quite the narcissist, Christian is determined to make a major impression with his next installation no matter what the cost.

The installation in question is The Square…a space that is described as “a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.”

The film ends up being an indictment on the contemporary art community as well as taking swipes as political correctness, the obsession with “going viral”, and basic human decency.

One colleague I spoke with saw a correlation between the film’s notorious “ape man” scene and Donald Trump’s presidency.

It’s that kind of film.

And the performance by Terry Notary as the “ape man” will be one of the most memorable things you’ll see on screen for a very long time.

It is, however, not a perfect film. At 142 minutes, The Square definitely overstays its welcome and there is much that could easily have been cut. Give Ruben Ostlund a good, persuasive editor, and he’d have a masterpiece on his hands.

As it is, The Square is still well worth your time. You’ll leave the cinema shocked, shaken, confused, thinking and feeling.

Marty Duda