The Square (2017)

A delightful send-up of the modern art world, and a scathing satire of the limits of people’s empathy, the bystander effect and so on.

The film is shaggily episodic, with enough of a plot throughline to provide some thrust through the many scenes lampooning modern art society (some more successful than others), but ultimately sagging in the middle as it pulls through two and a half hours. The scenes that work really do work though – an “unrehearsed” off-the-cuff remark in a speech being rehearsed, a press conference gone wrong, a display of “art” at a fancy dinner pushing the limits of what art is defined as.

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The film is blisteringly funny at times but there’s clearly a ponderous element to it as well, actual consideration of some of its themes. How artificial is empathy and we as people when when we engage our empathy, and how far it reaches, is so arbitrarily demarcated? Does the artificiality and arbitrariness of art extend to it being inherently fraudulent? The scenes of homeless people act as anchors tying the film back down to reality and bringing to mind actual empathy instead of the feigned performativity the film revels in pushing to the limit. It flops around at times, not all its scenes working half as well as others, but there’s clearly a powerful vision behind the film, and one that succeeds in exploring its fascinating ideas. Three and a half apes, and a stolen pair of cufflinks.

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