The Square (3 stars)

The Square

Cannes 2017: Ruben Östlund follows Force Majeure with an interesting if overambitious satire

Ruben Östlund follows the almost surgical precision of his breakthrough hit Force Majeure with The Square, an altogether more sprawling, unwieldy, star-sprinkled proposition (Dominic West and Elisabeth Moss appear). His new film is the cinematic equivalent of an attempt at the great European novel, as he chews over a modern world crippled by selfishness, timidity and a growing retreat from a unifying sense of community into safe, cosy personal havens. At his best, Östlund mixes sly, Swiftian satire with a view of human nature that JG Ballard might happily recognise.

The alpha male in this film is Christian (Claes Bang), the successful curator of a museum showcasing cutting-edge modern art. There are some easy laughs at the pretentiousness of the art scene but the main focus is on the wavering moral compassion of a man doing his best to live a decent life. Responding to a plea for help like a Good Samaritan, he finds himself the victim of a scam that costs him his wallet, mobile phone and cufflinks. He responds uncharacteristically by tracking the phone and leaving threatening letters to all the inhabitants of a block of flats where the stolen items might be. His actions have consequences and the film comes close to the world of Michael Haneke as those unfold.

Christian's personal dilemmas (including an awkward affair with an American journalist played by Moss) are part of a much bigger focus on a forthcoming installation at the museum and the misguided ad campaign designed to attract maximum media attention. Personal responsibility, the sensationalist modern mindset and the need for everyone to be more connected to their fellow human beings are just some of the themes explored in a very wide-ranging film. The Square does beguile with its elegant compositions, talking-point set-pieces and constant sense of provocation but ultimately it leaves you feeling that Östlund has bitten off more than he can chew.

Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 25 Aug.

The Square

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • Sweden / Germany / France / Denmark
  • 2h 22min
  • Directed by: Ruben Östlund
  • Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West,

Christian (Bang), the curator of a modern art museum, is scammed and robbed of his wallet, phone and cufflinks, and as a result tracks his phone and leaves threatening letters where he thinks it might be. At its best it mixes sly, Swiftian satire with an almost Ballardian view of human nature, but it’s sprawling and…