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Review: The Square is maddening to watch

Terry Notary in The Square.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

2 out of 4 stars

The Square
Written by
Ruben Ostlund
Directed by
Ruben Ostlund
Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West and Terry Notary

A little girl wanders into a public square, her clothes in tatters, her pet kitty cat mewing pathetically. A digital clock ticks in the background. An operatic soundtrack swells. And then, well, that's the point that The Square turns from a sharp art-world satire into something egregiously bonkers, a collision of blunt comic beats and heavy-handed social commentary that's more messy than profound.

It seems as if Ruben Ostlund's latest film, which picked up the Palme d'Or in Cannes this spring, is two different movies, constantly fighting against each other. There is the more nuanced comedy of human behaviour pivoting on the life of Swedish museum curator Christian (Claes Bang) and then there is the outrageous but empty shock that surrounds him.

The latter includes, but is not limited to, a scene where a performance artist (Terry Notary) impersonates an ape to the point of madness, a tasteless bit involving a man with Tourette syndrome, and a postcoital moment between Bang and a cameo-ing Elisabeth Moss that devolves into There's Something About Mary levels of farce. It all makes for intriguing, if maddening, viewing.

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