The Square ★★

If you have seen the posters for this film you might find them somewhat perplexing. They make no attempt to sell the film, to push its biggest names, to be some beautiful work of art that anyone would want to hang on their wall. No, instead the films posters, the most prominent ones anyway, show a single image from the film that will mean basically nothing to anyone out of context.

What they do show is an understanding by whoever is responsible for them of this films greatest quality. Ostlund’s follow up to his big international break out Force Majeure is two and a half hours long, and features a number of sequences that in isolation are tremendously memorable, and make a hell of a point. Sadly, I think they’re stitched together by too much of too little consequence. The performances that carry it along are fine, primarily Claes Bang in the central role, in what is probably one of the years better performances, a quiet torture beneath a sort of obnoxious black comic quality that makes him sort of unforgettable. He’s ably assisted by Elisabeth Moss in another sort of odd comic performance, and smaller work from Dominic West and Christopher Læssø, but none of them are so strong, or playing characters meaningfully explored enough to be anything more than amusing diversions.

Indeed, a film of this ones length lack of seriously in depth attention to the human element is for me its single biggest failing, and the the thing that makes it come away feeling more like an essay than a work of storytelling. The scenes to which I referred before, comic ones, unsettling ones, they are actor driven setpieces that will probably end up on the internet, and achieve the aim of going viral that the movies characters seek, and that is absolutely how they work best. Mini works of black satire with points to make that are generally made very well (if without much subtlety).

The scene that I opened up talking about, the one that graces the poster, is Ostlund’s finest hour, it’s his master stroke, it’s the heart and soul of a 150 minute movie, the whole thing in microcosm, and standing by itself with maybe a scene or two for the purposes of establishing context it might be the short movie of the year, but surrounded as it is by too much generally aimless stuff, by material that makes the exact same or similar points in probably less effective fashion, it is definitely dragged down.

That is a damn shame too, because it’s a film of such high heights, but unlike Ostlund’s previous effort it lacks that core humanity, that every day dynamic around which it can build its strange detached sort of coldness. Stretched out to this length too it is even more problematic. The movie is never a chore, the singular scenes are strong enough, Bang strong enough, and that greatest of scenes comes late enough that it doesn’t peak too early, but there’s just too much, and it all ends up being kind of a drag.