'The Square' review: Weird, wise and frustrating

It aims to show the proximity between art and pretence and it slowly becomes a casualty of the very malaise that it sets out to expose in the world of high-art in the cloistered museum set up.

Published: 16th March 2018 01:30 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th March 2018 01:30 PM   |  A+A-

A still from Oscar nominated 'The Square'


The Square

Directed by Ruben Ostlund
Starring: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Moss, Terry Notary

Rating: * 1/2

Look, I enjoy deviant cinema as much as any cerebral critic who goes to the movies for some serious mental manipulation.

But "The Square" left me aggravated and exasperated beyond the norms of cinematic exploration. It is just not fair to weigh down a film with so many disembodied episodes that look like segments of students' short-films at a film-appreciation class mentored by a professor who thinks avant-garde-ism is the best way to place rationale in a recline.

"The Square" is an exercise in intellectual nihilism. It aims to show the passionate proximity between art and pretence and it slowly becomes a casualty of the very malaise that it sets out to expose in the world of high-art represented by the cloistered stuck-up world of the museum.


A sequence showing privileged museum guests being shouted at by the host for rushing towards the food tables jostles for absurdity with a scholar-audience interactive session where an intruder suffering from Tourette's Syndrome keeps interrupting with profanities.

Don't laugh. Because the narrative seeks out the grand absurdity in art conventions , and then invites us to not be judgemental about the grand design that destiny often scoops up into our lives in unexpected ways.

But this film tries your patience.There is no way one can allow the disembodied images of arthouse artifice to merge with the museum curator Christian's after-hours adventures which includes a tumble in the hay with an American journalist (while a baby ape sits patiently in the next room) who first pulls him up during an interview for making pretentious comments on the nature of Art and mankind's struggle to yoke works of art with the rhythms of daily existence. 

The journalist then rebukes Christian for forgetting her name the morning after the feisty love-making. Her preposterous bullying is no different from what this Swedish film's director expects from us the audience.

The American journalist's love-making sequence with Christiano has a twisted ironic subtext (as does nearly every sequence in this haphazardly written dialectic on the polemic of artistic pretension) when she wants to preserve the condom with Christian's semen after their lovemaking.

What does she want do with it? I have no clue. This is a work of arrested art and rapid promotional developments, that had me wondering about its raison d'etre most of the way.Why did director Ruben Ostlund squander so much precious time on creating a world so devoid of continuity and flow? It's like watching a free-flowing trapeze artiste who has forgotten to buffer his fall on the ground.

By the time Teri Notary (filled with bestial hormonal anxiety) arrives at an elitist sit-down dinner playing the human ape to create havoc among the guests, I was done with looking for a centre to the plot.

There is none. Unless you would like to see a central stream in the theme of creating chaos in the universe of the creative, and looking for artifice in art and then satirizing it with a savagery that is at once brutal, startling and ridiculous.

"Creating chaos" is a major theme in "The Square". Christian does so by sending personal threatening letters to people whom he suspects of stealing his cellphone and wallet. Eventually the payoff catches up with him in ways that are as aggressively circumvent as a roller coaster ride that derails midway.

Yes, "The Square" is a film brimming with provocative ideas and audacious images. But they all add up finally to creating a cosmos that is as loosely constructed as an interstellar missile poised for takeoff into a galaxy that doesn't really exist outside the creator's head.

You are very likely to come away from this experience embittered and swearing to stay away from everything Swedish except the music of ABBA all your life.


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