The Square is both hilarious and deeply unsettling.
Both these feelings stem from the need of main character Christian—a museum curator—to be respected.
The plot centres around a new exhibition the museum is hosting. The exhibition is centred on one piece—The Square.
Inside The Square, we are told, we should treat everyone as equals. One scene sees Christian encouraging his daughters to leave their phones inside the square of bricks which makes up the exhibit.
Gradually the carefully curated world Christian has built for himself unwinds through the introduction of chaotic forces.
Watching The Square you get the sense that director Ruben Ostlund is having a laugh, not just at the characters, but at the viewer—or a particular kind of viewer.
The liberal, overwhelmingly white, faces that populate the film are the same milieu that hand out the prizes at Cannes.
It feels like Ostlund is daring them to object. And they daren’t—the film was handed the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival.
Each scene is excruciating in its own particular way. One stands out—a man pretends to be an ape in a piece of performance art which goes too far. It’s a particularly vicious swipe at the well-heeled attendees’ hypocrisy.
The liberal mask gradually slips away throughout the film, and is torn off in places.
Christian likes to think he’s pretty right-on. But when it comes down to the crunch he says, “As your boss I’m curious to know if I can count on you.”
The film is 151 minutes long, which may put some off. But it shouldn’t.
The length doesn’t feel gratuitous—the piercing observational comedy is funny precisely because the camera lingers on uncomfortable situations a little too long.