Ruben Östlund has bested the unforgettable Force Majeure. The Square is delightfully unhinged; a viewing experience that can’t be conveniently collapsed into review-friendly phrases like “precocious art world satire” or “modern morality play”. The Square is both of these things, and more. It takes place in an off-kilter universe reminiscent of that imagined in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, yet it is several shades closer to recognisable reality. The film’s naturalistic aesthetic is drenched in the uncanny, the uber-confident direction smuggling in red herrings that should made for laughably silly sore thumbs yet become intriguing head-scratchers you’ll ponder for days.
It’s a testament to lead Claes Bang’s performance that the inexplicable decisions his character makes never feel unconvincing within the world of the film – they’re just another part of Östlund’s madcap vision. It’s rare to see an offbeat film that totally knows the tone it’s striking and absolutely nails the delivery. The Square has a refined humour, a whip-smart wit that owes as much to the actors’ comic timing as it does to a hysterical script and some fabulous music cues.
Yet the film doesn’t make light of its darker issues. There’s zero sentimentality, and everything is played poker-straight. As the behaviour of Östlund’s latest fallible father spirals further out of control, the audience are simply left to mull over the murky morality.
Bang and the always brilliant Elisabeth Moss create nothing short of genius together. Paradoxically, it surely takes a good working relationship to craft two characters so lacking in chemistry. Although the overarching narrative and gallery set pieces are enormously entertaining, The Square’s high points are Moss and Bang’s excruciatingly drawn out one-on-one scenes.
With plenty to amuse and more to unsettle, The Square is a captivating chronicle of ego and excess realised through perfectly calibrated direction and performances.
CAST: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary
DIRECTOR: Ruben Östlund
WRITER: Ruben Östlund
SYNOPSIS: Christian is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals.