“The Square” may be a superb movie. It won the Palme d’Or top prize at the Cannes film festival against a crop of international rivals, so it is certainly prestigious.
The previous movie by its director, Swedish satirist Ruben Östlund, was a brilliant, scathingly amusing film that I loved, “Force Majeure,” which turned an affluent family’s skiing holiday into an avalanche-level drubbing of upscale complacency, male idiocy and gender stereotypes, so this similarly themed film comes from good creative DNA. It is two hours and 20 minutes long, so it is a film of weight.
I do not understand it. I can scarcely describe its abstruse motifs, story, characters, attempted jokes, performances and cultural criticism, but I will try. This is an art house film about an art house, specifically a pretentious Stockholm museum devoted to progressive modern art. The curator (Claes Bang) oversees displays of stacking school chairs piled on their sides into ugly pyramids, and mounds of dirt heaped into miniature mountain peaks. He hosts formal dinners where museum donors are accosted by a performance artist pretending to be a hostile gorilla. He approves a publicity video on social media that shows a realistic image of a little girl blown apart with explosives. This causes different publicity than he expected.
There are awkward complications in his private life as well. He goes to bed with a dimwit American reporter (Elisabeth Moss), who owns a large ape of her own, and has an extended tug of war with her over the used condom afterward. He launches a campaign to locate the unknown thief who stole his phone and wallet, triggering an especially unpleasant blowback. Every conflict is directly or implicitly tied to the art world’s linkages between reality and creative fantasy. Viewers fascinated by museum controversies may find profundity here. Good luck to everyone else.
Directed by: Ruben Ostlund
Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss
Running time: 142 minutes