NZIFF Review: The Square

After a satisfyingly diverse NZIFF for 2017, all eyes were on the Closing Night film, Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winning satire The Square. Not only is the film wholly deserving of its Cannes win, it was also a perfect finale for the Film Festival.

The Square takes a tongue-firmly-in-cheek look at a modern art gallery in Sweden, the focus of which is on Christian (Claes Bang). After having his belongings stolen when trying to be a good Samaritan, things take a turn for the worse; affecting the gallery and causing a furore when Christian’s inattention causes a PR stunt to go hideously awry.

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The Square is not afraid to poke fun at the art world whilst also challenging the view to ask: “what is art?” In fact, Östlund pokes fun to the point of tickling: wry social commentary intersects with more slapsticky, intentionally absurd moments. Chances are, you won’t let out a gentile little titter of appreciation, it will be a raucous belly laugh. The Square had the NZIFF Closing Night audience in stitches.

Hilarity aside, The Square has a surprisingly deep social conscience as well. One of the major themes which underpins the entire story is trust. Who do we trust, and why? What alters our level of trust in a person? We see this recurring through the film, from Christian being robbed after coming to the aid of a woman in trouble, through to an awkward post-coital tussle between Christian and American journalist, Anne (played by Elisabeth Moss).

Östlund is also unafraid to address the inequalities in Swedish society. He does this primarily through the contrast between Christian’s pampered existence and the presence of street beggars and Christian’s mad dash through a housing estate in order to gain justice after being robbed. One of the most startling frames of the entire film is a grimy, tuxedoed Christian, rain pouring down relentlessly, surrounded in a sea of garbage bags. It makes for a truly thought-provoking scene.

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While The Square features Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, and Terry Notary, their roles in the film don’t feel obligatory or disjointed. In particular, West’s exhibiting artist, Julian, fits seamlessly into the narrative. Actor and noted movement choreographer Terry Notary appears in quite possibly the most mesmerizing scene in the entire film; a stunning and terrifying display of his uncanny ability to fully take on the embodiment of an adult male gorilla. It sounds ridiculous here, out of context, but it is a perfect fit for the narrative (as well as the theme of trust).

Ample praise must be given to Claes Bang. His depiction of Christian drives the film forward and connects us to not only the art world, but the state of the world around him. He can go from being charming and in control of situations, to flustered and clueless and back again, always keeping the audience compelled, wanting to know what is going to happen next. Being the central character in a film is a massive task for any actor, but Bang is exceptional.

The Square is charming, poignant, and a lot of fun. Ruben Östlund has given the world a film that will be memorable for years to come.

Lynnaire MacDonald, Publicist and Founder, Film Sprites PR

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