Big Screen: The Square

March 8th 2018

Palme d’Or or Palme d’Bore?

Aside from the Oscars, the film industry’s most celebrated award is undoubtedly the Palme d’Or. Presented to the winning film of the Cannes Film Festival, past recipients include Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, and Fahrenheit 9/11. Don’t expect those types of films if you go to see the 2017 Palme d’Or winner though, because The Square is so art-house it’s literally set in a museum.

Directed by Ruben Östlund, The Square is based upon an art installation Östlund made where participants would enter a square that allowed them to ask for help from anyone, and then receive it. It’s an interesting idea so Östlund adapted it into a story that centres around Christian, a contemporary art museum curator who commissions the same work. Christian is initially enamoured with the project, but when his wallet and phone are stolen his egalitarian ideals are tested to their breaking point. The Square becomes a send-up of hypocrisy in the fine-art world, where works are bought and sold for millions while the poor starve on museum steps.



Unfortunately it’s a film that makes its barbs in the first five minutes and then labours those points until an underwhelming conclusion. Christian is pretentious and so detached from the real world that he appears naive or even comical. The problem is that The Square’s protagonist exists as a one-dimensional take-down of the high art scene, so much so that he’s basically unlikeable. It means that the film seems to repeat itself, as we get shown over and over again what a selfish dickhead Christian is, without really asking why he, or the art world is like that. And while the film tries to lighten the tone with cringe-humour and absurdist visual gags, it falls down because it’s kind of complicit in the same elitism that makes Christian so horrible.



Much of the dialogue is heavy handed, explaining the ideas of the film in a way that is either patronising or shoddily written. There are glimmers of brilliance but it’s poorly executed.The Square is too much a product of its subject matter, a film about pretentious art that falls prey to the pretension it satirises. I’m sure that Östlund intended to ask compelling questions with his movie, but in the end I think that The Square belongs in a museum. At the back.



Read more from James Ross

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