N.Y. Film Festival review: Absurdity goes viral in “The Square”’s sardonic vision of modern art

Society is the spectacle in “The Square,” which cleverly satirizes the contemporary art world by accentuating its facade and leaving the audience to wonder: Farce or Fiction? 

Although “The Square” is only the fourth feature by 43-year-old Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund, he has become a familiar name among cineastes and a major player in the film festival circuit—winning the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize, the Palme D’or, this year for “The Square,” and the Un Certain Regard selection Jury Prize in 2014 for the critically-acclaimed “Force Majeure.” 

Building on its festival success, “Force Majeure” was well received by filmgoers that year, and like the avalanche that triggers the central chain of events in its narrative, the film seemed to be on a roll going into awards season. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 72nd Golden Globe Award and selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. While the film made the early round of the Oscar shortlist, it didn’t secure a nomination, and Östlund didn’t take the news well. His reaction became the snub heard ’round the film world after he uploaded a video recording of the rejection online for all to see. In turn, Östlund made himself into a sort of viral sensation and brought more attention to his film. 

But it all seemed a little contrived. Was the videocamera really present in that moment to capture the director’s authentic reaction? Does it matter? 

These are the questions Östlund poses in “The Square,” which ushers us into what could be, from the outset, a mirror image of a modern European city; replete with stylish, sleek surfaces, and a pristine contemporary art gallery run by a handsome curator named Christian (Claes Bang). Sure, reality may be suspended momentarily, but as soon as Christian opens his mouth in the first scene, empty pretension starts pouring out and the fallacy of this versimilitude cuts through the…

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