‘The Square’ satirizes society and art world

Nov 09, 2017
“The Square” won this year’s Palme d’Or, the highest honor at the Cannes Film Festival. Contributed by Magnolia Pictures

If you were a fan of Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 avalanche satire “Force Majeure,” then you’ll probably like his latest, “The Square,” which satirizes the art world and the bourgeoisie.

Bourgeoisie champion Whit Stillman and his followers, of course, will be appalled. And that’s okay. Some outside the Stillman coterie will also be appalled.

But Ostlund delivers quite a few laughs and pokes a few holes in the pretentiousness of modern art. Or is that really what he’s trying to do? You’ll have to decide.

The main character, Christian (Claes Bang), is the dashing director of a modern art museum in Sweden. He has two daughters from a previous marriage, but he acts very much like he’s eligible. He has decided to put on an exhibition called “The Square” – a physical square placed in the museum’s plaza – that serves as a humanitarian sanctuary for anyone standing in it.

Such a square was actually installed at the design museum Vandalorum in Varnamo, Sweden, in 2015 by Ostlund and Kalle Boman.

The movie’s square is supposed to be a place of safety for everyone. But the museum hires a public relations firm to make it sound more sexy and gin up some controversy, since that’s what gets the public’s attention.

While the public relations firm mulls its options, Christian throws lots of parties, hangs out with Sweden’s richest residents and seduces women, one of whom is the journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss), who decides she doesn’t want to be treated like a one-night stand, much to Christian’s dismay.

Christian falls for a con during which his cellphone is stolen, and he takes extreme measures to get the phone back — raising the ire of a very determined child.

Christian also throws an elaborate party for a visiting artist, Julian (Dominic West), but a performance art piece by a man portraying a brute during the sit-down dinner goes off the rails.

And that raises the question: Does “The Square” go off the rails, too? The jury at the Cannes Film Festival, where “The Square” premiered earlier this year, didn’t think so. It awarded the film the festival’s highest honor, the Palme d’Or.

In its defense, “The Square” raises serious questions about wealth and poverty, about the power of images, about our responsibilities to people in need. And those are questions that are as relevant today as they’ve ever been.

But the set pieces tend to go on too long, hence the running time of more than two hours.

The revelation of the advertising campaign for the art installation, however, is so absurd that it’s hard not to laugh.