The Square review: Ruben Östlund returns with this humoursly layered tale

The Square review by Paul Heath, May 2017.

The Square review
The Square review

Filmmaker Ruben Östlund returned to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time since his well-received 2014 effort Force Majeure (winner of the Un Certain Regard prize that year) with this wonderfully off-beat and funny effort laced with themes of guilt, bravery, honesty and inner torture.

The story revolves around the central character of Christian (Claes Bang), an affluent museum curator in modern-day Stockholm. Our first glimpse of Christian is of him asleep in his office in the middle of the day, his assistant disturbing him to inform him that his new ‘interview’ is ready to go. Said interview consists of a very amusing interaction with Elizabeth Moss‘ Anne, an American journalist seemingly interested in slightly ostentatious comments made by Christian in a recent publication. We continue to follow the forty-something singleton onto the streets of Stockholm where, on his way into work one morning, is involved in an elaborate street-robbery where he is relieved of his wallet, phone and grandfather’s cuff-links after apparently attempting to help a distressed woman. This of course kicks off the many aforementioned themes laced throughout the narrative which take Christian on a journey of self-destruction all of which can be traced back to this simple act of kindness.

After realising that his phone and wallet have gone, Christian asks one of his employees to trace the mobile device, which of course he does, locating it at an apartment block a short distance across town. Unwilling to let the thieves get away with it, Christian takes things further and dishes out a letter to every resident of the complex with firm demands to return his belongings to a nearby 7-Eleven… or else!

The Square review
The Square review

Of course there are so many layers to The Square that it would be impossible to even scratch the surface, or even be fair to cover in this review. First off, the tone is very light and comedic pretty much all of the way through – I’ve even heard critics referring to the film as this year’s Toni Erdmann.  The pace is elegantly fluid for at least the first ninety minutes, which absolutely speed by, but with a final hour which is massively overstretched, one feels that the story could have been brought to halt on many occasions leading up to its eventual, and frankly welcomed closing credits.

By demeaning the film early on is possibly doing it a great disservice. There’s a lot to like about the film, most of all the pleasing performances from its cast, most of all from the talented Bang who even manages to squeeze out a brilliant British accent – which sounds a bit like Pierce Brosnan as Bond with a hint of cockney shaken in for good measure. He’s superb, as too are the wonderful background actors – we point to the sitting woman in the museum who provides some heavy chuckles as Christian and Anne discuss the meanings of a previous sexual encounter two thirds in. Without too many spoilers, that ‘sex’ scene is also a highlight, one that involves a stretched, used condom and a wandering chimp (it’s not what you think).

There’s also an turn from Dominic West who appears in two of the movie’s most entertaining scenes – an early Q+A featuring a member of the audience with Tourettes, and a sequence at a high-brow society function featuring an unsettling post-dinner social experiment, complete with a performing monkey – again, not what you’d expect.

The humour is the film’s biggest asset as well as the perfect framed, stylish photography from Fredrik Wenzel, who also worked with the director on his last effort. The use of ‘squares’ is present throughout, along with some ambitious moves up and down stair wells, all of which draw you into the film’s winding narrative.

There’s a lot to like in Östlund’s latest, but you can’t help but feel that a good chunk could have been left on the cutting room floor. The final thirty minutes or so does grate a little and will have you looking down at your watch hoping that it all comes together soon.

The Square review by Paul Heath, May 2017.

The Square opens in UK cinemas on 25th August 2017.

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The Square