What is THE SQUARE? In director Östlund’s (FORCE MAJEURE) new film THE SQUARE, the square is a place of trust and caring where everyone shares equality and obligations. It is also the name of the newest project of Museum Director Christian (Claes Bang) which he hopes will bring in money for the cutting edge art museum in Sweden he represents. Christian hires two young TV publicists to spread the word on social media.
The film is made of a number of cinematic set-pieces. If this method of filmmaking sounds familiar, it is used by Swedish director Roy Andersson (A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE, SONGS FROM THE SECOD FLOOR) who happens to be director Östlund’s mentor. Though these set-pieces appear unconnected on the surface, they upon close examination all tie into the greater scheme of Östlund’s universe.
These set pieces include:
the film’s most brilliantly executed segment set during the museum charity dinner where a wild man (a very scary Terry Notary) is let loose among the guests. If the guests show any sign of fear or make any sudden moves, the wild animal will turn on the hunter after sensing his/her fear. This art act ends up going out of control.
the post sex scene in when Christian and Anne (Elizabeth Moss) argue on who will take hold of the filled condom for disposal
the poor kid that confronts Christian on his act of accusing him of being a thief
the museum display of separating visitors into two sections; one that trust and the other that mistrust people. In the trust section, the guests are supposed to leave their cell phones and wallets behind.
a TV interview gone terribly and embarrassingly wrong
the confrontational scene between Christian and Anne when Anne accuses Christian of using his position of power to attract women, a segment that seems to serve as a prophecy to the current Weinstein sex scandal.
One observable thing is that what happens to Christian after his downfall from museum director. He is still questioned to no end, and not allowed to at least go into disgrace in peace. When he decides to seek forgiveness from the boy he wronged, it turns out that he is unable to do so as the boy and family has moved.
One of the film’s best jokes in the film is the scene of the exhibit with the mounds of gravel that goes terribly wrong when the cleaner on the vacuum machine accidentally sucks up the dirt.
The film is also not without arresting images, courtesy of cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel. The two most striking ones include the shot of Christian building with escalators and star is rising above him like a maze (see trailer in link below) and the other with Christian in a heap of garbage as he searches for the piece of paper containing an important telephone number.
As in most successful satires on film (Terry Giliam’s BRAZIL), the story follows the downfall of the protagonist. In THE SQUARE, Christian almost gets his chance to prove himself worthy of being a good human being by apologizing to the boy he has wronged. But Östlund removes this opportunity in a twist of fate when he discovers the boy has moved with nor forwarding address.
The film deservedly won this year’s Palme d’or Prize. The film is as wicked a wicked satire can be as well as sexy, brilliant, complex and bitingly hilarious. It is a cruel, absurd and unforgiving world we live in and Östlund has captured it masterfully in his minor-masterpiece. Clearly the best film I have seen this year – hands down.