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The Yorker at LIFF 31: The Square (Opening Night Film)

This year’s Leeds International Film Festival opened with a “bang” with the screening of  Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winning satire The Square. The film stars Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West and is set in the world of contemporary art.  Bang plays Christian, the curator of an art museum in Stockholm who faces a series of setbacks in the run up to the opening of a new installation.

The performances are excellent across the board. Claes Bang is a brilliant lead and he makes Christian a complex and sympathetic character who holds the attention for the whole of the film’s lengthy runtime. Christian’s decency is constantly tested and it is a pleasure to watch Bang’s performance unfold. Elisabeth Moss is a beguiling but unpredictable presence as Anne, the American journalist whose relationship with Christian is strange and unsettling. Dominic West and Terry Notary (Rocket from the new Planet of the Apes films) are fantastic in two of the standout scenes from the film. 

Östlund has a terrific eye for symbolism and metaphor which gives the film an incredible depth. The film discusses Sweden’s homeless problem as well as the idea of isolationism and political correctness and is at its best when it has an almost sketch comedy style. A scene with Dominic West and a Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer is both difficult and thought provoking. However, the centrepiece of the film is the sequence involving Terry Notary’s performance artist Oleg. This scene is one of the best from a film so far this year. The pacing, cinematography and acting is wonderful and the tension in the scene builds to incredible levels.   

The film is about 20 minutes too long, and after a while its excessive length started to detract from the film as a whole. The economy of the narrative of the first hour begins to fade as the film enters its second and third acts. Perhaps the excessive length was supposed to symbolise the decadence and excess of its lead character’s lifestyle, but in the end, it just makes it a little tiring. 

Nonetheless The Square was the perfect way to begin the festival. It is a terrifically ambitious film which straddles both the mainstream (through its internationally known actors and comic elements) and the arthouse (the heavy reliance on symbolism and art).

The film also heralds a terrific 16 days of screenings to come with highlights including Battle of the Sexes, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri and You Were Never Really Here. Please join us at The Yorker for more coverage of the 31st Leeds International Film Festival. 

The Square was the opening night film at the Leeds International Film Festival. For the full lineup, visit LeedsFilmCity.comImage Source: Youtube.com