By Zachary Sheridan
Directed by Ruben Östlund
The crux of the plot is this. An average guy called Christian (average because he comes across as yet another handsome, white plodder who has everything handed to him), curator of a museum in Stockholm, gets all pissy when he falls victim to a phone-wallet-cufflink robbery. Yes, even his cufflinks that he’s wearing are stolen… Preoccupied with catching the culprit, via way of a “find my phone” application of some sort, everything else around him soon falls to pieces. The museum is slammed for a controversial ad Christian (played by Claes Bang) doesn’t bother reviewing, and his action of placing threatening letters to every flat in the building where his phone might reside (in order to get his phone back which is really important even though he looks like he makes mega bucks and drives a Tesla), leads to a young boy being evicted from his home (because the family think the youngster’s committed the crime). Then there’s his exploitive relationship with Anne (Elizabeth Moss), and the part where Oleg (Terry Notary) through his “performance art” – what I’ll call “aggressive man calling upon evolutionary ancestral heritage” – starts physically assaulting audience members. Then there is The Square itself – an upcoming exhibition to be featured at the museum. The Square, which looks how it sounds, is “a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.” All up, with several different narratives stretching through the story, there’s a lot going on.
The movie won Best Film at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival – so there’s that. What’s interesting about The Square is that it’s divisive. You’ll most likely love it, hate it, or be like, ‘I’m confused.’ I think I fall into the latter category, but it definitely left an imprint upon me. There’s juxtaposition between those with privilege and those without, there’s commentary on art and relationships in the “postmodern” world, and there’s even chimpanzees kept in apartments. However, it’s hard to understand what’s being relayed. And, despite all its huge array of disparate elements, you can’t just take the story in on its own. There’s an obvious air of agenda. My best interpretation is that it relates to who says what is and what is not art and the commodification of the art world. I initially thought it was taking the piss out of museums, but I want to believe it’s taking the piss out of systems. The systems that decide who hangs what on the wall, and larger political/social/economic systems. Maybe that’s why there’s an emphasis on homelessness – perhaps the idea of The Square is sad in itself. Why can’t everywhere be a sanctuary of trust and caring? Why do we have to limit ourselves to a small unit of concrete? How can our art project love and empathy, while the processes behind it fail miserably in this capitalist-driven world? I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe it’s just about a dude who gets his phone stolen – you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Darkly amusing, beautifully shot, this thought-provoker is worth a watch.