Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner The Square has rightly placed at the forefront of its publicity campaign the film’s central scene, in which Terry Notary – famous for his motion-capture work on the Planet of the Apes reboots and Avatar – plays a performance artist who, in his impersonation of an ape, causes chaos at a black tie dinner for patrons of a Stockholm art gallery. The act begins innocuously enough, but builds to a horrifying finale which leaves the viewer squirming in their seat and willing the scene to end.
The Square is, at its core, a film that displays the neuroses of the wealthy and powerful and their inability to take responsibility for their actions, hidden behind an acerbic satire on the world of contemporary art. The gallery itself can be seen as an allegory for the insulated world of the upper classes, where nothing anyone does makes any difference to real life and the consequences are out of sight and mind.
Christian, a well-known curator portrayed by Claes Bang, spends the film making idiotic decisions which result in the implosion of his career, such as sending a threatening letter to every resident of a block of flats in a working-class neighbourhood, just to get his pickpocketed phone and wallet back – the consequences of which haunt him for the remainder of the film. Elisabeth Moss’ performance as journalist Anne serves as a possible balancing force for him, yet he pushes her away as his actions begin to catch up with him. Bang’s performance makes all this simultaneously uncomfortable, infuriating and perversely amusing to watch.
Notary’s scene works so well because of the way periods of silence and disorienting noise are balanced and distributed throughout. This could act as a microcosm for the entire film, as the characters struggle to relate to one another and trot out one meaningless exchange after another, replete with awkward silences and misunderstandings. Overall, The Square is a tremendously sly look at class divisions and the neuroses of the better-off when dealing with those less fortunate, without falling into the trap of leading an audience to sympathise with them.
[Ciaran McQueen – @_delareine]