From the country that regularly brings us dark, brooding crime thrillers comes The Square, something as far removed from the norm as I’ve seen for a while.
Christian, Claes Bang (The Bridge (TV), Sibel & Max (TV)), is the curator of a prestigious museum in Stockholm. The museum is all white walls, vast space and filled with modern art that, occasionally, writer/director Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure, Play), lets us see.
The museum is about to launch their latest exhibit called The Square which, obviously, is an LED rope set into some bricks, in a square shape. A plaque rests on the ground at one end that reads “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations”.
In an attempt to drum up interest they call in their marketing agency (as someone who’s spent their life working in this industry, this is hilariously on-point) to come up with a plan. And what a plan they concoct; a video that is the very antithesis of what The Square is all about.
Instead of focussing on the new exhibit and marketing, Christian is busy sleeping with journalist Anne, Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale (TV), High-Rise), a woman who asks few questions and keeps a monkey in her apartment.
Christian is also robbed in the street and loses his phone, wallet and cufflinks. Rather than contact the police, he and IT guy Michael, Christopher Laesso (Follow The Money (TV), The Bridge (TV)), track the phone to an apartment block and write a note to everyone in the building asking for his stuff back.
This works, and Christian gets his stuff back, but it simultaneously back fires too, and, as the marketing video for the new exhibit goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Christian is facing crisis’ everywhere he turns.
Ostlund’s directing is absolutely perfect throughout The Square. There are some beautiful scenes; the spiral staircase scene towards the end for one, the shots of Christian going out to his bins is another, but many more.
Bang is not an actor I’m familiar with but I hope we get to see a lot more of him. He’s brilliant in this. He matches the clean lines and sharp edges of the museum perfectly and, as time goes on and things go wrong, he begins to get a bit ruff around the edges.
Dominic West (Finding Dory, Money Monster) pops-up and performs wonderfully as an artist being interviewed though he keeps getting interrupted by a man in the audience who is suffering from tourettes.
Then there is the monkey man. If you’ve seen anything from The Square it will be Terry Notary (Kong:Skull Island, War For The Planet Of The Apes) as performance artist Oleg. Oleg acts like a gorilla, usually in a large project of him that you can often hear in the background (in fact, keep your ear out as there’s a lot going on in the background that add to the oddness).
For a special occasion, the museum invites him to perform at a gala dinner. And so, in a room filled with people dressed to the nines, many of whom are donating large sums to the museum, Oleg wonders in doing his very best gorilla impression.
He messes with a few people, makes some noise, walks around a bit, all good, harmless fun. That is until he spots West sat at a table and immediately wonders over and hounds him out of the room. Christian tries to bring things to an end but Oleg is in full on performance mode now and nothing’s going to stop him.
He leaps on tables, pulls at a woman’s headdress and finally simulates having sex with one of the women before the men have enough and leap to her defence.
Yes, The Square is long at over two and half hours, but you feel this mimics the process of going to these sorts of museum perfectly. When Ostlund lets us in to see the works there’s either no-one but the staff, or people briefly look, or they try to take a photo and are told, no photos.
The Square feels odd as you’re watching it, yet it’s very funny and tonally perfect. You feel the frustration building in Christian and wince as he makes yet another disastrous decision.
By the end the bizarre nature of it all almost begins to seem normal, almost. The Square is a fantastic movie with some stellar performances though being a bit heavier with the editing wouldn’t have gone amiss.