The winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, The Square is a fascinating compilation of set pieces that are held together through the life of Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of an art museum that is trying to launch a new, experimental show. The problem with The Square is demonstrated by the difficulty its promoters have had settling on the best way to market the film. For example, the poster they chose portrays actor Terry Notary, who appears in only one scene. The film was originally pitched as a satire of the art world, and this is certainly the crux of the plot. But on a more personal level, it’s really about an appealing intellectual who makes a series of terrible and easily avoidable bad decisions.
There are two particularly amusing scenes that deal with Christian’s interactions with art journalist and groupie Anne (Elisabeth Moss). In the first, Anne asks Christian to explain the description of a workshop she found on the museum’s website: “Exhibition, Non-Exhibition, an evening conversation that explores the dynamic of the exhibitable and the construction of publicness in the spirit of Robert Smithson’s sites and non-sites, from non-sites to site, from non-exhibition to exhibition, what is the topos of exhibition non-exhibition in the crowded moments of mega-exhibition?” Later, Anne and Christian have sex and argue about who should take charge of disposing of the semen-filled prophylactic.
There’s a lot going on in The Square. I’ve read analyses that discuss the themes of trust, art world hypocrisy, compassion hypocrisy, etc. But, in the end, as I said, the message is that you can be intelligent, handsome, sophisticated and well-respected, and still make really stupid decisions—frequently.
By the way, I’m a fan of director Ruben Östlund’s previous film, Force Majeure.