While living in Copenhagen a few months, I hear a lot anecdotally about the competition between the Danes and the Swedes, but that tends to fall away when celebrating a Scandinavian success.

After all,  The Square won the Palme d’Or at Cannes before earning its nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. My Danish colleagues directed me to the only screening in town with English subtitles, and I was glad of the recommendation.

My only quibble with the film is about the pacing. It’s a little long (a common complaint of mine), and there are a few sequences that challenge viewers’ patience (I say this realizing that circumstance is likely intentional, especially during the sequence pictured on the movie poster above).

What The Square is about seems less important than how the story is told. The film functions effectively as a critique of cultural elites who have been insulated from the everyday experiences and challenges of people outside of their rarefied world.

Playing upon that context–art museums, art work, art promotion, art curation, art criticism–but presented in direct contrast to it, the film is minimally stylized.

I’m teaching an introduction to media aesthetics course this semester, and this film fits the definitions students are learning of realism as a style.

The story unfolds episodically. Director Ruben Östlund uses the camera to record events without revealing his intention intrusively or even obviously. He trusts the viewer to take notice, to decide which details are important, and to fill in the gaps.

It’s not unlike his approach in his 2014 film Force Majeure, a film I thought was close to flawless except for an extended sequence that unnecessarily derailed the narrative (or, at least, served as an unnecessary detour).

The stakes are smaller in The Square than in Force Majeure–a museum curator has his phone and wallet snatched in the former and a man reveals something important about his character when his family is threatened by an avalanche in the latter–but the feeling for viewers of experiencing something real unfold in front of you is common to both.

I would like to see The Square again, which–from me–is high praise.

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