An artful satire about collective responsibility and contemporary art, The Square is clever and sometimes challenging but overlong in delivering its message.
Christian (Claes Bang) is the head curator of a prestigious modern art gallery in Sweden. Walking to work one day he comes to the aid of a woman in distress, only to find later that he has been robbed. His attempts to retrieve his belongings leads him into a chain of events that reveal his ignorance and privilege.
Asking for, and receiving, help is a narrative theme, framed overtly around the gallery’s next installation, The Square. It is a 4x4m zone in the gallery forecourt where anyone can stand and ask for help and passers by are obligated to respond. We can see that Christian has no problem asking for and expecting help, largely unaware that his power is due to privilege and not merit. There are also instances where help is asked for but, being outside the square, goes unanswered.
Interspersed with this theme is a vein of humour satirising the pretentiousness of modern art; the cleaner and the piles of gravel, the mountain of chairs that grind and move, the extended performance of Oleg (Terry Notary), the social media campaign for The Square. There are some genuinely funny moments, Christian’s tussle over a condom with Anne (Elizabeth Moss) comes to mind, in fact all of the scenes with Moss are engaging.
At 2.5 hours long, it felt like it was labouring its message with extended scenes, such as Oleg’s performance, spelling out what had already been shown. The ending is unusually anticlimactic for a film that has delighted in showing the dubious value of shock – not a Bang but a whimper.
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