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THE SQUARE gets 8.5/10 State of the art

Directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss

8.5/10

Films about art (particularly art house films) often tickle the fancy of cinephiles and critics alike, though they run the risk of coming across as too obnoxiously meta. Last year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes and European Film Award winner for Best Film The Square manages to evade any such issues as this two and a half hour film seems to have so much going on that the world of art often side-steps from being the major focal point of the film.

The Square itself is an art-piece, just outside a prestigious Stockholm Art Museum, which posits that whoever is inside of it is granted equality in rights and obligations. The curator of such a piece is Christian (Claes Bang), who runs this art museum and enjoys the lavish party lifestyle that comes with his status. Unfortunately, his life is plagued by a number of problems that seem to get worse the more he tries to fix them.

He believes his wallet and phone have been stolen, so he tracks down their location through GPS and crafts together a devilish scheme to get them back. Meanwhile, one new purposefully controversial art-piece is stirring up a lot of viral press for him, which he does not react kindly to. Also, he has a one-night stand with an interviewer Anne (Elisabeth Moss) who starts to take their relationship more seriously than he thought she would. Oh, and in case the film forgot to mention, he also has two young daughters from a previous marriage who show up to create even more hassle.

This certainly makes the film sound unfocused, but The Square is aiming for a high-concept slice-of-life structure. What prowess writer-director Ruben Östlund demonstrated in Force Majeure is present and even more active here, though he sure has crafted a different experience to his predecessor. Whereas Force Majeure was a slow and agonising linear build-up of relationship tensions, The Square is more of a mosaic ensemble, piecing one vignette after the other, each building up to something more elusive than relationship issues. The audacity of this kind of structure is particularly affecting, as if Östlund is not so much playing the audience, but pranking them.

These set-pieces that make up the bigger picture are each as stunning as the last, though some are obviously more provocative than others and are sure to cause quite a stir among audiences as much as they did when the film first premiered. Given how thoughtful the overall film is, yet how animastically visceral most of the individual scenes are, this is now further proof of what a master Östlund is becoming in crafting a cinematic piece of art.

It’s a shame that his tremendous work isn’t getting more notice in the America-centric awards season – more word should be spreading about what extraordinary work he is bringing to this medium and how much it deserves to be seen on the big screen.

The Square plays at UWA Somerville from Tue 16-Sun 21 Jan, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tues 23-Sun 28 Jan, 8pm. For more info head to perthfestival.com.au.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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