The Square

SATIRE/DRAMA; 2hr 22min (Swedish with subtitles)

STARRING: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Christopher Læssøe

Christian charity: Bang.

Christian (Bang) is the affluent chief curator of an elitist Stockholm art museum preparing to mount an exhibition called “The Square”. Its central concept is a 4x4-metre installation whose engraved plaque states, “The square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.”


All very altruistic, as everyone involved agrees. But that altruism is tested to disturbing limits after Christian is robbed of his phone, his wallet and, incredibly, his cufflinks while on his way to work. When his computer GPS tracks down the phone, Christian and fellow museum staffer Michael (Læssøe) take matters into their own, bungling hands. Meanwhile, the pretension of the art world knows no bounds, its surreal pomposity lethally skewered by Palme d’Or–winning writer-director Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure).


Affectation is an easy target, of course, especially when juxtaposed against the hard realities of homelessness and destitution that “The Square” exhibition so nobly professes to respect. But Östlund doesn’t stop there, segueing into the wholesale weirdness of hook-up dysfunction (between Christian and Moss’s bolshie American journalist), insufferable millennial marketeers and the disastrous ripple effect of harebrained payback plans and grandiose artistic abstractions.

Christian is both catalyst and victim in all this and his self-serving misadventures make for a long, slow downslide. Östlund’s snidely observational—and at one point, coldly shocking—approach keeps all the balls in the air, however, even if the odd one does drift off course. When they touch down at last, they don’t so much crash and burn as deflate with a distinctive hiss.