The Square ★★★½

Viewers who have experienced the delectable agony of director Ruben Östlund’s international breakout 'Force Majeure' (2014) doubtlessly have some expectations regarding the Swedish filmmaker’s new feature, 'The Square'. Those expectations will largely be fulfilled: Like his previous film, the director’s latest work is a pitch-black satire presented completely straight, with a whiff of self-loathing detectable beneath its Scandinavian starch. Both 'Force Majeure' and 'The Square' are bone-dry cringe comedies about self-satisfied bourgeois men. In both films, the protagonist is swiftly and thoroughly dismantled by a volatile mixture of happenstance and their own wretched failings.

However, Östlund’s preceding film slyly employed a constrained setting—a nuclear family’s holiday at a luxury ski resort—that reflected the feature’s relatively narrow focus on patriarch Tomas’ crumpling cowardice and inadequacy. In contrast, the Palm d’Or-winning 'The Square' veritably sprawls. Set in Stockholm, with much of its action centered on an esteemed contemporary art museum, the new film follows the travails of Christian (Claes Bang), the institution’s preening, middle-aged chief curator. His narcissistic dickishness receives a healthy share of 'The Square'’s barbs, but the general absurdities of the art world are also subjected to profuse skewering. More broadly, the film takes aim at the grating self-regard of the politically Leftish well-to-do, and at the inanities of modern, globalized European society. The feature suffers somewhat due to this expansiveness, lacking the ruthless intensity that made 'Force Majeure' such an enthralling experience. Nonetheless, 'The Square' is still a superbly unpleasant delight—the comedy equivalent of a vinegar caramel or salted licorice...

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www.cinemastlouis.org/lens/review-square