This is a simply extraordinary film, though there is in fact precisely nothing simple about it. Claes Bang plays Christian, curator of the X-Royal contemporary art museum in Stockholm, and at first The Square promises to be a satire on the pretensions of conceptual art and particularly of those who publicise and make money from it. It’s certainly that, but it’s so much more besides. And whilst Bang is terrific as the cumulatively stressed protagonist, all the main actors are impressive – not least Elisabeth Moss as an American reporter.
When Christian is the victim of a rather ingenious robbery scam, the stage is set for a brilliantly devised plot which encompasses some stunning set-pieces. A very disturbing performance art piece by a human “wild animal” at a fundraising dinner is the most memorable of all, but they’re thick on the ground. Along the way writer-director Ruben Ostlund manages to sidestep heavy-handedness whilst posing questions about class, self-delusion, moral courage, elitism and the function of art – among other major and topical themes.
The Square has a good many side plots, some of which would have been substantial enough in themselves to sustain a lesser movie, but it also boasts a rigorous overall coherence and narrative thrust. Even the supposed red herrings and bizarre unexplained details feel just right. It’s got so many outstanding qualities that a profusion of positive adjectives becomes unavoidable if any description is to do it justice. It is by turns wry, very funny, deadly serious and harrowing. It’s both light and dark, and consistently thought-provoking, unpredictable and extremely clever. Unmissable.