The Square

More fun to read about (positive or negative) than it is to sit through. The kind of movie you appreciate until you sadly, suddenly don't. Ruben Östlund's disjointed Roy Andersson-esque style becomes wearisome after its scholarly brand of comedy reveals its limitations. We're supposed to be bowled over by manicured politesse bristling against the real world (the extended Tourette's sequence), and modern art's absurd impracticality (the piles of ash, one of the movie's better visual gags). The idea of humor here is a lover's spat repeatedly interrupted by a boisterous art instillation. Blistering satire, that.

The Square's most compelling thought is one explored already (and more thoroughly) in Östlund's previous, funnier film, Force Majeure: the notion of men presenting a facade to the world, and how easily that can unravel when challenged. This understanding of male phoniness hits its peak early when Christian, our art curator protagonist played with imperceptible smug and urbane charm by Claes Bang, practices a speech in the restroom. After getting through a portion of his spiel, he concludes that it's too stiff and decides for an off-the-cuff approach. The effect is that he's doing this opposite a listener, someone to bounce his rehearsal off of. But he's not, he's alone. It's an example of Östlund's most impressive formal skill, his keen use of offscreen space, and a reminder of the ways in which we protect our image.

Aside from the heralded man-ape setpiece — a moment laced with genuine unease that also acutely exercises the film's obsession with performance — this mostly repeats itself. I also find it telling that this scored the Palme d'Or, as its distanced skewering of art-types feels pat. Were they to award something that actually confronted the hypocrisy of privilege, rather than feebly acknowledge it, maybe they would've looked closer at Good Time.

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