Review: The Square (2017) — An unconventional, ambitious satire on modern society

terry notary ape man oleg the square movie still

The Square

Movie review

Directed and written by Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure, Play), The Square is already an award-winning film, receiving the Palme d’Or (first time for a Swedish film since 1992 and first time for a Swedish director since 1951) and the Vulcan Award (for set decorator Josefin Åsberg) at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival while also winning Best Comedy Feature at the recent Fantastic Fest. The story revolves around the main character Christian (Claes Bang), a respected curator of a contemporary art museum, who, after trying to retrieve his stolen wallet and phone, triggers a chain of events that affects his life and career.

The film starts off with Christian being interviewed by Anne (Elisabeth Moss) but he’s not able to answer a question about something that’s written on the museum’s own website, making me think that the film’s going to be a form of a criticism on the contemporary art world. But then Christian seems to get really excited when he gets robbed and so I thought the story’s also about the character’s need for a change in his mundane life and career. After that, the narratives seems to also heavily explore themes of inhumanity and consequences. It basically just goes off and become like a broad observation on modern society and culture today, without the usual conventional movie structure.

the square movie still

The Square is a comedy based on the real life in similar societies. The film’s thoroughly engaging, believable and mostly hilarious but there are moments that you might feel uncomfortable to laugh at as they reflect the absurdity and contradiction of the society that we’re in right now. Some of these scenes were actually inspired by Ostlund’s own experiences and other true incidents. There are also gripping moments that made me feel very anxious. Ostlund’s smart use of long single-take shots, background settings and surrounding sounds effectively heighten the tension of certain situations.

The performances by the cast are fantastic. Motion-capture expert Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes film series, Kong: Skull Island) makes a strong cameo appearance as Oleg, an artist who can perform like a real ape, in one lengthy, intense, disturbing scene that puts an exclamation on some of the points of the film — how much does it take before people care? But when an art is censored or stopped, doesn’t that contradict the freedom of expression? The Square is simply a brilliant film that’s open to various interpretations.

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What I would’ve named the film: “Why Donate Millions to Art When There Are Poor Homeless People Right Outside?”

Malaysian censorship: Profanity is not censored (not even the subtitles) but there are scenes with sudden skips, most notably the sex scene.

Verdict: Oscar-worthy.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

the square 2017 movie poster gscCountry / Languages: Sweden / Swedish, English, Danish

Genre: Satirical comedy drama
Running Time: 145 minutes
Director-writer: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West

Malaysia Release Date: 23 November 2017 (GSC International Screens only)
Rated: 18
Local Distributor: GSC Movies
Production: Plattform Produktion, Film i Väst, Essential Films (and more)

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