The Square opened this year’s Leeds International Film Festival after impressing on the festival circuit and even winning Cannes’ prestigious Palme D’or. The film follows Christian (Claes Bang), an art museum curator in Stockholm, as he makes various mistakes in his professional and personal life.
The Square is rather unfocussed in terms of its plot, meandering in several different directions after Christian is the victim of a particulatly devious mugging. The film pushes a message of societal inequality throughout, contrasting images of Stockholm’s evident homelessness problem with the careless wealth of Christian’s modern art gallery. This issue is seized upon by the museum’s hipster marketing department as a way of promoting a new exhibit – The Square, inside which everyone is equal. The resulting YouTube advert, which I won’t spoil, is so misjudged that it causes national outrage and the buck eventually stops with Christian.
In the meantime, we are shown Christian trying to recover his stolen items, his feud with a young Turkish boy, his fateful encounter with Anne (Elizabeth Moss), his fractious relationship with his two young daughters and his half-hearted attempts to do his job. These all tick boxes of the hapless, modern fop and Christian is just about tolerable. The Square, however, is less so and could definitely lose at least thirty minutes. The standout scene is the one used for the film’s promotional material – Oleg, a performance artist, acting as a wild gorilla terrorises a dinner party for museum funders who remain apathetic as they all wait in hope for the act to end.
Ruben Ӧstlund’s film attempts to skewer the modern art scene’s self-interest and occasional amorality, which is hidden under a veil of the medium’s “boundary pushing” intent. However the film doesn’t always convince and says very little apart from what we already knew – pretentious people populate the art world who dismiss any criticism as blinding ignorance and hold their audience with a certain contempt. Maybe I’m a bit over-sensitive, but I caught glimpses of that contempt in the film. There was a lot of laugher in The Square but, as I left the screening, I couldn’t help feeling the final smirk was on the audience.