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“The Square” (2017) : A Social Satire on the Contemporary Art World – A film Review

By Socratis Santik Oglou,

Back in May of 2017, Ruben Östlund won the Palme d’Or Award at Cannes Film Festival for his film titled The Square. Östlund’s film consists of a work of high-concept takedown, created with full self-referential allusions, giving the viewers an excellent execution. Someone could say that The Square feels more like a live performance rather than a movie, due to its classical narrative. Its social satire and comedy are felt throughout the film, while infused through the lens of the contemporary art world.

The Square is a satirical film directed and written by Ruben Östlund, starring Claes Bang, Dominic West, Elisabeth Moss, and Terry Notary. The production is Swedish, with co-production support from Germany, Denmark, and France, while the film was shot in Berlin, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. The whole storyline of the film was inspired by an art installation created by Östlund and the producer Kalle Boman. Moreover, the film’s director was inspired by an incident that involved Oleg Kulik and Notary, in a parodic way drawing on Notary’s experience on imitating apes.

The film is all about Christian (Claes Bang), an art curator on the Royal Art Museum, who struggles with multiple personal issues, involving his smartphone and his love life. Among these distractions, a controversial promotional video for an art installation is published without his permission, endangering his career and generating controversy about freedom of expression and political correctness, while he meets a journalist, Anne (Elisabeth Moss), who perplexes his love life even more.

Credits to: Magnolia Pictures. Image source: frieze.com

In my opinion, the movie is rather interesting with a nice execution. I observed that Östlund likes to build up tension and emotions in his films, especially in this one. In the scene with Christian and Michael (Christopher Læssø), when Michael is left alone in the car, we see all these people approaching, while the camera is never leaving the car’s frame, working in close-ups and focusing on Michael’s anxiety.

Moreover, something that I found really interesting about the story is that this imaginary society that Östlund created has no police, guards, or anything of this sort. For example, in the film, maybe the main scene of the movie, when the art performance at the museum’s gala dinner went wrong, it is left up to the guests to take control of the situation and make things right.

Another example of the no-police society that Östlund built is when a guy from Christian’s life looked to get his payback, he broke into his apartment with no problem at all. Östlund created a world that does not obey the laws of logic. The purported critique of masculinity and privilege alternates with conceptual fish-in-a-barrel potshots at contemporary art, rising to a finale that praises mealy-mouthed and insufficient compassion.

All in all, The Square is an exceptionally interesting and creative film. I sense that viewers that are interested in art would be entertained by the whole storyline. And maybe it comes as no surprise that when The Square entered the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, it received positive reviews in Palme d’Or Award as well. Moreover, in 2017, following Cannes Film Festival, it was chosen for the Toronto International Film Festival. It went on to win six European Film Awards, including Best Film, and two Guldbagge Awards, including Best Director. At the 90th Academy Awards, it received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

  • The Square, rogerebert.com, Available here
  • The Square’s high-concept comedy targets both the art world and the social contract, vox.com, Available here



Socratis Santik Oglou
Born and raised in Greece, he studies at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, at the department of Communication, Media & Culture, with a specialty at Cultural Management. He loves art, architecture, and old films. In life, he has not settled down but, he is open to everything that life brings.