Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund’s multilingual epic The Square won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and it’s easy to see why.
It’s a sometimes lushly cinematic saga that makes heavy (if sometimes awkward) points about all sorts of pressing contemporary topics. However, it must have made the audiences there uncomfortable, as this mocks the whole idea of hip altruism and takes swipes at modern art and the ignorant, overprivileged crowds that lap it up, even while Östlund himself laces his film with plenty of conspicuous artiness.
Christian (Danish actor Claes Bang in a sustained performance of comic bewilderment), the chief art curator at a Stockholm museum, is preparing for a new installation called ‘The Square’, and he personally believes in its notions of morality and virtue, as he zips about in an electric car, gives money to charities and tries (sort of) to do the right thing by his two young daughters. However, early on here his mobile phone and wallet are stolen, and after tech assistance from colleague Michael (Christopher Læssø), he sets about getting them back in threatening fashion.
As homeless people amass in the streets outside and ‘The Square’ is finalised and discussed endlessly, Christian also sits for an interview with journalist Anne, and she’s played with scene-stealing humour by Elisabeth Moss, who apparently had trouble adjusting to Scandinavian methods of filmmaking (but it doesn’t show). There are also many meetings with a PR company (one of whose members looks weirdly like a Swedish Tim Minchin), and again technology is shown to be dangerous, especially when the promotional video for ‘The Square’ is released without Christian’s consent because he’s too busy being harassed by an angry kid in real ‘return of the repressed’ style.
It is true that there’s much here to enjoy, from Moss’ funny performance to some un-PC gags during a virtual cameo by Dominic West to the seemingly improbable but based-on-fact highlight involving ‘ape-man’ Oleg (portrayed by American stuntman Terry Notary, who basically played the latest King Kong) to some sumptuously Swedish trimmings.
Then again, at 142 minutes this is too long, and director Östlund (best-known internationally for his previous pic Force Majeure) doesn’t quite know when to stop, although the final act and strangely abrupt climax do linger long in the mind.
Rated MA. The Square is in cinemas now.