I had never watched before and probably will never watch again a similar film as the Square. It has been an absorbing experience, I would even dear to call it a lighter and comical Swedish version of a Haneke film, just to compare it with something we all may know. This film makes you laugh out loud at times, but it also makes you reconsider certain aspects of your own humanity and definitely makes you feel uncomfortable about the society you are part of (Hence the similarity with Haneke’s work).
The piece, filmed by director Ruben Östlund, has been awarded with the Palme d’Or last year but I didn’t want to watch it only because of the reputation of this award, which is a statement in itself, but because I knew it was going to be an unconventional one. And it definitely is.
The director of a Modern Art museum in Stockholm and his team are in search of a shocking marketing campaign to give more visibility to the museum and to a new installation in particular. A chain of little accidents will slowly form a sketch of the lives and motives of the characters in the film but in general of our society in the First world. Some reactions, conversations and situations may sound very familiar and all that resonance makes the experience funny and sad at the same time.
Some of the most comical moments are when the director (who is also the script writer) takes openly the piss of certain nowadays’ manifestations of Contemporary Art and tell us using clever humorous scenes (sometimes only images with no dialogue) how absurd some of these installations can be and how wealthy people love to get indulged in this artistic world just to pass their time and to get some kind of snobbish public recognition for their monetary contributions. The scene of the interview with an artist explaining his work while a member of the public attending the event is suffering a Tourette syndrome episode is just hilarious, it was a long time I didn’t laugh so much (and heard others laughing so honestly) in a cinema.
This shallow world of snobbish superficial art and its benefactors is exposed in juxtaposition with that of the homeless, these are present everywhere, in supermarkets, in shopping centres, falling asleep in the streets.
The director manages very well to illustrate this extreme contrast without sounding melodramatic or simplistic, he is just exposing an ugly truth with a sarcastic look; the phenomenon of becoming immune to others’ suffering, especially when the unfortunate ones come from other countries, with a darker skin colour. People excuse themselves hiding behind policies, governments, borders, etc.. not to change anything in their routines in order to help those in need.
But what I liked the most about this film is that not everything is black or white, neither the good ones are always good, here the beggars can be also displayed as being cheeky demanding mouths, waiting to get some money or food from the pedestrians passing by as if it was their unquestionable right, without acknowledging the gesture or without muttering any thank you.
A great scene which I will never forget for the feeling of awkwardness it provoked in all of us is that one of a man pretending being an ape enters a dining room full of Museum’s guests to play a performance. During the few minutes that the scene lasts the spectator endures an enormous feeling of shame, this scene is a painful metaphor of a very human aspect, the selfishness of fear.
The main character of the film, the director of the museum, interpreted by Danish actor Claes Bang is such an interesting one. He is a man of success who loves to speak in public, a very attractive womanizer who is still in shape in spite of his age, he can come across as a shallow man at times, but he mainly inspires pity because we can all see ourselves reflected in some of his flaws and reactions, his fear of the poor, his unease when he feels he hasn’t done enough, the excuses he come up with upon such realisations, his attempts not to hurt his loving ones but doing so in spite of his efforts.
Finally, the film questions the boundaries of artistic expression, should everything be valid for the sake of freedom? Or should we put limits to this freedom for the sake of morality?
The Square is a great work and it deserves a place in the “Best films of all times’ shelf” of any film lover.