The Square is a sly social satire that demands patience from its audience, but like last year’s Toni Erdmann, there are ample rewards for those who stay the course. If you saw Swedish writer-director Ruben Östland’s previous film, Force Majeure, you may recognize his mordant sense of humor: it’s bone-dry but hard to resist.

Claes Bang plays a museum curator who’s not a bad person but makes some bad decisions. From a chance encounter with a pickpocket to a clash with a homeless person, he suffers a seemingly endless series of slings and arrows—the kind that could happen to any of us if we were careless at just the wrong moment. Whether it’s driving his expensive car to a dodgy neighborhood or having sex with a journalist (Elisabeth Moss) who has a hidden agenda, Bang can’t seem to do anything that doesn’t have dire consequences.

Östlund also takes the opportunity to poke fun at the art world and its pretensions, from an exhibition that creates jarring sounds but goes unexplained to a piece of “performance art” that leaves its audience horrified. The title of the film refers to a space that is supposed to represent an oasis from the tumult of the outside world, yet our hero finds no escape from predicaments large and small. Cutting-edge art is often controversial and leads to troubling questions about freedom of expression. When Bang delegates decision-making to members of his staff he is the one who has to defend the results.

I wish The Square was shorter, but its major set pieces are brilliant. They have so much to say about how we see each other in this confusing modern world that I recommend the film, even though the parts are greater than the whole.  Ruben Östlund is a keen observer of humanity and a master satirist.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024