'The Square' pursues a satirical unmasking of upper-class society
By Diane Carson
Ruben Östland 's The Square immediately announces its unconventional, satirical skewering of upper-class society. Christian, chief curator at a contemporary art museum in Stockholm, is sitting for an interview on the upcoming installation of the film's title, The Square. His obtuse theoretical commentary praising it, read back to him by the reporter, signals a pretentious, inaccessible analysis.
This superficial veneer for a square drawn in the museum's cobblestone entrance area is accompanied by an inscription reading, The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations." Disruptive events in Christian's life will shred this metaphor for what should be a supportive, constructive community, holding a mirror up to what the privileged, educated class profess and what they practice when they literally or figuratively come face to face with a disruption of their complacent, privileged existence. I can say nothing more specific because The Square traffics in the unexpected.
Ruben Östland's previous film, Force Majeur, undertook a similar mission, undermining the central character when he flees an avalanche in a panic and lies after the fact. Östland broadens his targets here, including the economic disenfranchised, selfish sexual indulgence, self-congratulatory complacency, and anger when -- surprisingly -- facing vulnerability. At two hours 22 minutes, the episodic survey of Christian's life includes this divorced father's interaction with his children and his attempts to cope with a disastrous public relations video that goes viral. Extending the fairly all-encompassing indictment to the audience, several scenes put the viewer into decidedly uncomfortable positions, one at a glamorous dinner in a palace and another as Christian faces a boy in his own apartment building. Östland has written that The Square explores the difficulty of acting according to one's principles.
As Christian, Claes Bang brings a perfect balance of composure and agitation. Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, and Terry Notary bring their A games to complex roles. The Square won the 2017 Cannes Film Festival's prestigious Palme d'Or, the top film prize. In Swedish with English subtitles with some English scenes at Landmark's Tivoli Cinema.