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Review: The Square

Written and directed by Ruben Östlund, the movie stars Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West and Terry Notary. The Square is about a Swedish art curator at a major museum of modern and contemporary art. The plot takes place in the lead up to the opening of a new exhibition called “The Square”. The film is a satire of the art world and its self-obsession, whilst being a nice portrayal of Swedish community.

“The Square” is a simple illuminated square placed on the pavement. Christian’s role as a curator is to make it interesting to draw the attention of the public. It is not easy that people today have such short attention span. The pressure mounts for this character, as the museum receives a generous donation, and has to make good use of that money. Additionally, on his way to work, in a city full of thieves and beggars, he has his wallet and phone stolen. The film boasts a beautifully crafted protagonist in Christian, who has a lot of flaws but, throughout the plot, develops a conscience and tries to change things. The other characters are also well written and performed, although sometimes touch on stereotypes; but then again, it wouldn’t be a satire if they didn’t.

The music and the cinematography is everything you would expect form an arthouse film. The camerawork makes great use of the architecture, gallery spaces and the art objects, isolating the characters in the space to show how little power they have over things that are happening. The result is clear and simplistic, yet very effective. The sounds, sometimes eerie, also work towards creating that atmosphere.

As a student of art history, I find it very annoying when someone criticises contemporary or modern art without even trying to understand it. Although this movie does not give any easy answers to the questions of what is art or what is its aim, the movie does address some of the ideas from contemporary artists. Most of the art works exhibited are either real art objects or based on real ones. The performance of Oleg Rogozjin (Terry Notary) is stunning and shows exactly what performance art is about and how it makes you feel to be a part of it. I really enjoyed how the movie made use of those objects to create humour and to show at the same time the difficulty of making art interesting and understandable, and the hypocrisy of the art market. The criticism of the art world in this movie is constructive and well argued. It’s saddening that the artworld has such a bad reputation, but the movie does provide a sense of catharsis when you walk out of the screening.

The movie won Palme d’Or at the Cannes Festival, six awards at the European Film Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film, and I believe that it deserved all of them. It is funny when it should be, serious when it should be, and beautiful all the way through.

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