The only thought that comes to mind after viewing The Square this evening for my second screening at HIFF is as follows: of course this won the Palme D’or this year. Of course it did. This is not a bad thing, as down on the film as it may sound. What I mean by “of course” is indicative of the style of the film, which is no doubt unique to the Swedish-born director, Ruben Östlund. His previous directorial efforts may have been indicative of this jarring style of storytelling, yet I have not yet seen such films as Force Majeure, which would have probably prepared me better for this shocking film.
My one thought when sitting in the theater while waiting for this film to start was “What is The Square?” Having seen the film and having thought about it since leaving the auditorium, I am still not sure that I know the answer. What I do know, is that this film is a melding of genres unlike anything I have ever seen. One part black comedy, one part thriller, one part satire, and a dash of the absurd, and you have the hilariously strange and dramatically shocking film The Square.
The film centers around the life of museum curator Christian (played brilliantly by Danish actor Claes Bang) as he prepares for his next art exhibition, from which the film draws its title. The “point” of The Square (the art exhibit) is repeated throughout the film, and it drew me to start looking for a point within the film itself. Unsurprisingly, I have not found one, and unless I watch the film again, I doubt I ever will. Regardless, The Square is one of the most subtle comedies I have seen in quite some time, and certainly one of the most absurd. To put it in layman’s terms, imagine if the comedy Airplane! were directed by David Fincher and translated almost entirely to Swedish. That is not the most apt comparison, yet it is the closest I can get to comparing a film to The Square, which feels as enigmatic as some of the art it depicts.
The film clocks in at an astounding two hours and twenty-two minutes, which is surprising, as the hours seemed to fly by, a credit to the excellent directing at work here. This is also a credit to the infallible performances given by all of the actors involved, and especially the children, who all gave effective performances, both dramatically and comedy-wise, which is more than anyone can ask for when it comes to children acting. Speaking of the comedy, it always hits, and sometimes very hard. There is a particular scene in which sex is involved which had much of the audience in stitches. The drama is also palpable as soon as it wants to be, and sometimes the film switches between these two tones at the drop of a hat. This may seem like a negative, but since it was always handled so well, the tone always felt appropriate. Although The Square is strange, it is equal parts funny, tense, and sad.
In closing, is The Square pretentious? Absolutely. Is it absurd? In spades. Is it entertaining? Yes, and is equally as memorable a viewing experience. The more I think about this film, the more I think it absolutely needs to be seen, and more importantly, discussed. I love films that make me think, and The Square will keep me thinking as I continue to see films during this year’s festival, and as I view the previous films of the director.