The square, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s masterpiece about the pretentious emptiness of modern art in a Swedish avant-garde museum. The story is build around Christian (Claes Bang), a Stockholm museum curator who is unable to deal with pressures of life or his job. In the first scene Christian is interviewed by American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss). When Anne reads him a quote from the museum’s web site and asks for its meaning, Christian seems to be unaware of the quote and since he does not understand it, he answers some platitudes that completely avoids Anne’s initial question. One day as he walks down a street, he tries to respond to a woman cries for help, and soon after finds out that his phone and wallet are missing. (That incident really happened to Östlund.) He tracks the whereabouts of his phone and tries to get the items back. He will be succesful, but not without costs. Outside the museum there are homeless people, Christian does not see them and rarely speaks to them or give them money. At a press conference, a man with Tourette’s syndrome keeps interrupting with obscenities. When Anne invites Christian to the apartment she shares with a chimpanzee. Anne and Christian have sex. After, Christian refuses to throw away his used condom and Anne deduces that he’s afraid she wants to steal his semen. The museum is featuring a new exhibition called “The square”: On the public place outside of the museum, there is an illuminated square with a plaque that reads “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” While Christian is busy recovering his wallet and his phone, the young advertisers hired by the museum are planning to post a shocking Youtube video in wich a little blond girl enters “The square” and gets blown up. Of course, the video goes viral, the campaign is controversial, the young advertisers are overjoyed, but Christian has to resign. At the press conference, some journalists accuse Christian of exploiting violence, others of censorship. Scenes of increasingly disturbing natures create a pulsating feeling of doom and decay. The best, most memorable moment, will inevitably become a classic. During a fundraising reception, a performance artist impersonating an ape takes it too far. In his only short scene American actor Terry Notary gives an Oscar caliber performance. The impressive Bang is in almost every scenes in this 142 minutes film. It’s a cold and calculating turn that is both funny and dramatic and at times tragic. I got so invested in The square, I was surprised at Ruben Östlund’s imaginative cynicism. But also intrigued and amused. I hope you will too.
And the Oscar went to… The square lost Foreign language film to the equally marvelous A fantastic woman (Chile).
The square (Rutan)
In English, Swedish, and Danish with English subtitles.