Winner of Cannes highest accolade, Palme d’ Or, Swedish director (“Force Majeure”) Ruben Ostlund’s “The Square” is staggering in its execution; expectations, never realized; pungent metaphors; it’s only flaw, colossal ambition. Sensual, “imperially slim”, Claes Bang depicts “Christian”, as a charmingly caddish director of a Swedish contemporary museum; spewing innocuous, “art-speak” pervasive in today’s artsy, rarefied vacuum; “Anne”, an American journalist (sublimely superb, Elizabeth Moss) interviewing Christian, flounders in trying to make sense of his glib, obtuse explanations (there are a number of uniformed piles of rocks in the background); Duchampian, foggy, inscrutable art world, is a segway to Ostlund’s views on consumerism, capitalism, entitled collectors, narcissism, casual intimacy, hypocrisy, immigration; Christian is the initiative for the disparate themes pulsating through “The Square”.
“The Square” in LED lighting strips, glows in the courtyard of Christian’s museum represents a “sanctuary of trust and caring” an equalizer, all who enter share the same rights; yet a PR firm equates it with massive brutality; taxing the boundaries between freedom of artistic expression and the reprehensible/suable. An egregious example of viral-marketing gone amuck; Christian’s suave manipulation is tested when he is held accountable.
Christian’s sleuthing to recover his possessions, stolen in a scam, gift hilarity and precipitate a moral compass, resulting in a belated apology. Bludgeoned with the truth, by a young boy, into whose life, he had inadvertently reigned chaos. The scenes between the two resonate with conviction, passion and righteousness.
At its core is a black-tie banquet, celebrating major donors to the museum (in actuality, with the exception of one actor, were art mavens); Terry Notany, impersonating an ape, “Oleg” is invited to taunt, terrorize the patrons; as the fierceness of his tirade escalates, mimicking the supremacy of “one” to mesmerize, mentally cauterize, the “collective”; overwhelmingly “Hitlerian”; Ostlund’s keen facility of mockery and satire, in an earlier scene, has an actual gorilla perusing a book.
Ultimately, “Christian” is a metaphor for the alluring, patronizing, bon vivant; ignoring imperfections, he is comfortable within the altruistic confines of the “square”; simultaneously representing the fractured paradigm, oozing contriteness, recognizing and accepting his liabilities. “The Square” stunningly addresses today’s amorphous morality, its lack of introspection, fuzzy parameters; brilliantly challenges viewers to think above, beyond, and outside the “square”.