The Square (Sweden)



27 October 2017| No Comments on The Square (Sweden)     by Sean Chavel



Museum world satire that smartly digs at upper class hypocrisy. The Square (Sweden) at the same time is a sincere character study revolving around its chief curator Christian (Claes Bang) who sees himself as a small celebrity amongst hoity-toity circles, but instead of high success, we slowly see how a string of unfortunate events undoes him. Christian is handsome with expensive tastes, is a shameless bachelor, sometimes putting his employees in charge of his personal items that have nothing to do with museum affairs, and yet has a showboating manifesto about spreading compassion for everybody else in the world.

At the X-Royal of Stockholm, a former palace, is to feature an upcoming concept called “The Square” which promotes the idea that all people that step in must share the space with a sense of equality and understanding. The first PR advertising catchphrase is, “It’s a sanctuary of trust and caring!” The whole sense of museum benevolence is a crock, though, since its’ demographic and its ongoing funding is providing by the uptown crowd who would rather keep patronage exclusive.

Plot-wise what happens crucially early on is that Christian easily falls for a con, getting his wallet, cell phone and heirloom cufflinks stolen. Since the phone has a GPS tracking device he’s able to locate his belongings at a housing project. With the aid of an assistant, he slips a threatening note through the door slot of every unit in the building. The scheme works, and he gets his items returned to him. But the filmmaker Ruben Ostlund (“Force Majeure”) explores some very strange karma, in little form and thmuch of it in the form of a viral promotional video of the museum that gets out of hand, with all of the backlash coming back to bite the buns off Christian.

What’s great about Ostlund is his willingness to stretch out his scenes until they have tapped a certain distinguishable awkwardness – he likes to have characters exchange in a verbal conflict only to see what it’s like for one of them to walk away. The downside to Ostlund is that he likes to do this sort of thing a little too often. Occasionally patience-wearing, “The Square” isn’t wall to wall fun and sometimes it feels like a social studies assignment. The material though is so good that it’s one of those assignments that are a pleasure afterwards to dissect. There are many things about it that mulled around in my head for days.

When it is at its most wicked – like Christian visiting the home of Anne (Elizabeth Moss), a journalist who is kooky enough to have a chimpanzee live with her – the film cannily stirs the social critic within you. Christian is suave enough to have an ample number of sex partners, but its’ funny how he just comes off stupid that he can’t just excuse himself and leave Anne’s home. He flinches at the sight of the chimpanzee, but fails to bring up that its bothersome. They have sex, and later on, Anne turns into the kind of woman where no answer is sufficient for her. Christian rapidly looks like a man who wants to escape from her.

The showstopper sequence of “The Square” – its calling card which has gained it notice as well as its cred – is a black-tie benefit that is deliberately interrupted by a jungle act, a performance artist (Terry Notary) comes out like an ape man who doesn’t for a blink drop his act. The ape man picks off one by one wealthy dinner guest to antagonize, and it escalates and escalates until it’s obvious that something is off, that something is psychotic about this performance artist who goes way past the line and way past too long before somebody brave enough from the audience intercepts. “The Square” will be remembered twenty years from now for good reason.

It does require a lot of talent for a filmmaker to deliberately not tie up loose ends and still make it work. What Ostlund is very aware of is that sometimes in life things don’t get resolved. Often in these kinds of movies the cosmopolitan male resists change and goes about his errant ways. But it’s obvious that Ostlund, poking fun at this decadent lives of the art world, has certain ideas about how Christian at the end recognizes his place in the world. That he leaves us hanging on what exactly those ideas are and are not, is to me, okay. I believe he wants us to further contemplate and dissect the situation.

Winner of the 2017 Palm D’Or (Best Film). Swedish film with English subtitles and spoken in some English.

142 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Viridiana” (1961, Spain); “Footnote” (2012, Israel); “Force Majeure” (2014, Sweden); “The Circle” (2017).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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