Director: Ruben Östlund
Screenwriter: Ruben Östlund
Country: Sweden, Germany, France, Denmark
Runtime: 151 mins.
Australian Release Date: Thursday 1 March 2018
Previewed at: Sony Pictures, Sydney on 14 February 2018
Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, The Square is a blackly satirical comedy that makes a harsh judgement on the mores and manners of bourgeois society in today's world by examining a few days in the life of an art curator in Stockholm. Ruben Östlund, the film's director and writer, has a penchant for this type of material, having written and directed 2014’s Force Majeure, which also looked at the failings and inadequacies of modern man. His works scrutinize the disparity between how people think of themselves and how they really are and he says all his films are reflective of his own life, which must mean that a) he doesn't like what he sees, and b) he's got a wild sense of humour. Plenty of people do like what they see, however, so in addition to winning the Palme d'Or The Square is a finalist in this year's Oscars for Best Foreign Film.
Christian (Claes Bang, known to Australian viewers from TV’s The Bridge) is in the final throes of preparation for the opening of his gallery’s latest exhibition, The Square, when his phone is picked from his pocket as he's reacting to an incident in a public plaza. The exhibition involves creating a place of safety, a refuge where you can leave any possession without fear of having it stolen, but is in fact illusory, being nothing more than a depiction of a square on the ground. Whether it's because of his thoughts about this ‘safe place’ or something more, Christian is so enraged at the theft that he electronically traces the phone to an apartment building in the suburbs but can't pinpoint its exact location. Unprepared to give up, he letterboxes every flat in the block with a letter accusing each inhabitant of being the thief, in the hope of flushing the guilty party out. Surprisingly, only one person responds, a young boy (Elijandro Edouard) who is unceasing in his demand that Christian apologise to him and his parents and he threatens “chaos” if Christian refuses. This is not the only oddity in Östlund’s off-beat screenplay: a chimpanzee pops up unannounced and unmentioned in a lover’s (Elizabeth Moss) apartment; there’s a very funny argument over the contents of a condom; at The Square’s opening night dinner a performance artist pushes the VIP guests to the limit (Terry Notary, utilising the skills he used to play Rocket in the Planet of the Apes films); a PR company creates a YouTube clip for the exhibition that depicts a young homeless girl coming to a violent end and it goes viral in the worst way.
These and other highly original scenes are disquieting and unnerving and border on the surreal but they’ll have you thinking for days after seeing this powerful film. There is more ‘food for thought’ here than in most of the films you’ll have seen in recent months. As Östlund has written, “Christian faces questions we all face, of taking responsibility, trusting and being trustworthy, behaving morally at an individual level. And when he encounters a dilemma, his individual actions conflict with the moral principles he stands for. Christian will appear as a walking contradiction, just as many of us are. At the end of the film, we must evaluate if he learned his lesson.” The Square will not only make you evaluate Christian’s actions, it will also have you examining your own and isn’t that one of the roles of the best kind of cinema?