Contemporary art gets roasted by its cinematic equivalent

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Square
Roxy Theatre

Opens Friday 8
3.5 out of 5

The Square was the surprise Palm D’Or winner at this year’s Cannes film festival. This is a comedy packed with novel ideas and topics — so much so that after a while the richness becomes overwhelming. Still, the Swedish flick is light years ahead of the average Hollywood comedy.

At The Square’s centre is Christian (Claes Bang), the chief curator of a Stockholm modern art museum. Christian juggles several personal and professional crises simultaneously, starting with the need for funding and public attention. Then one unexpected hiccup too many — a pickpocketing incident — sends his carefully balanced existence into a tailspin.

Christian’s woes are an excuse for writer/director Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure) to explore the growing distance between the elites and the common man. Christian’s reckless pursuit of the perpetrator causes serious collateral damage but he’s too blinded by righteous anger to care. His crusade helps us see how brittle social conventions really are.

The world’s heartlessness contrasts with the museum’s new installation: a small area near the entrance (the titular “Square”) in which kindness is law (it’s worth mentioning that a traditional statue is unceremoniously punted to make space for the conceptual piece).

The Square also tackles the matter of what constitutes art: is provocation a goal in itself? Ostlund doesn’t give us an answer but he has a good time mocking the question. He also doesn’t think highly of outrage culture, either, but much like in every other issue raised by the movie it’s not fully explored.

At 142 minutes long, The Square is too self-indulgent and cynical for its own good, but it does reaffirm my belief that cinema’s future is in Scandinavia.