The Square (2017)

An intriguing and thought-provoking film that skillfully blends satire, drama, and social commentary.

7/7/20233 min read

Claes Bang in 'The Square'
Claes Bang in 'The Square'

Sweden, 151 minutes

Director: Ruben Ostlund

Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West

Awards: Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival 2017; Nominated for Best foreign Language film, Academy awards, 2018; Nominated for Best foreign Language film, Ceaser Awards, 2018; Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best actor at European Film Awards, 2017

‘The Square’ is an interesting and dark film that explores the contradictions in modern society through the lens of contemporary art. It highlights the stark contrasts between the world of high art and the unpredictable chaos of everyday life thereby creating an immersive experience for the audience.

The story starts with Christian (Claes Bang), a curator at X-Royal Art Museum encountering a woman while on his way to office, who ostensibly is running from someone wanting to harm her. He saves her feeling triumphant only to discover that his wallet, watch and cufflinks are missing. This actually gives viewers the idea of the kind of satirical tone that forms the undercurrent of this movie.

His associates and subordinates try to triangulate the mobile signal to locate the robber from their office. One of his subordinates and Christian decide to drop pamphlets to all houses inside the triangulated residential building, threatening robber that they know his whereabouts and will get to him if he doesn’t return the phone and wallet.

Simultaneously, Christian is also involved in unveiling an ambitious art exhibit titled ‘The Square’ by one ‘Lola Arias’ at his museum. Interestingly, real life Lola Arias is an argentine Actress, writer and theatre personality who actually accused Ruben of using her name without her express consent which Ruben Ostlund denied saying he had secured her permission and produced proof of her interview with him.

Christian’s efforts pay off and the robber returns his phone and wallet, untouched. He is happy at the recovery and donates some money to the beggar outside the store. However, soon this creates another problem. An Arab kid sends another parcel to the same store and accuses Christian that his life is ruined because of the pamphlet he has randomly dropped. Thanks to that paper, now he is not allowed to go to play because his parents think that he robs people. This springs a moral dilemma in Christian’s mind because he starts feeling guilty.

Sequences such as when Christian is announcing about the exhibit ‘The Square’ and as soon as he hands it over to Chef who announces the menu for buffet, people start rushing towards dining area, or, beggars seen on sidewalks, stations and inside 7-11 store, or when Christian confronts his employee about his idea of distributing pamphlets inside a residential complex or the discussion between Anne and Christian after they have sex about disposing off condom are handled skillfully and are 'in face' depicting the double standards and hypocrisy of our modern society. Conversations often stretch to a point which make people uncomfortable and squirm in seats. This I think is USP of Ruben, which he displayed amply in his previous feature ‘Force Majeure’ (2014) too.

‘The Square’ is undeniably a compelling and well-crafted film and apart from its social commentary, the film also delves into the nature of art itself. Östlund raises thought-provoking questions about the purpose and impact of contemporary art.

About the director, Ruben Ostlund

Born in April, 1974 at Styrso, Sweden he graduated in Filmmaking from University of Gothenburg in 2001. He was admitted in film school on the basis of his 'skiing films' which he had made while working for ski resorts in Swiss Alps.

His first feature film was ‘The guitar Mongoloid’ made in 2004 which won the FIPRESCI Award at the Moscow International Film festival. He is known for his satirical and black comedy films like ‘Force Majeure’ (2014) which won Jury prize in ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at Cannes film festival, 2014.

Present film, ‘The Square’ was inspired by an art installation Ruben Ostlund had made with Kalle Boman. In 2022, Ruben made another film ‘Triangle of Sadness’ which won him his second Palme d’Or. The film won Swedish Awards and was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Direction and Best original Screenplay) for year 2023.

In 2020, he received the King’s medal for his contribution to the Swedish film industry. He was also the Jury President for Cannes Film Festival, 2023.