Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark, 2017. Plattform Produktion, Arte France Cinema, Coproduction Office, Det Danske Filminstitut, Essential Filmproduktion GmbH, Film i Vast, Imperative Entertainment, Minorordningen, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Sveriges Television, Swedish Film Institute, Yle to 1 Finland, ZDF/Arte. Screenplay by Ruben Ostlund. Cinematography by Fredrik Wenzel. Produced by Philippe Bober, Erik Hemmendorff. Music by Rasmus Thord. Production Design by Josefin Asberg. Costume Design by Sofie Krunegård. Film Editing by Jacob Secher Schulsinger, Ruben Östlund. Academy Awards 2017. Cannes Film Festival 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
A fancy Swedish art museum is preparing to host an exhibition focusing on a conceptual piece called “The Square”, a space on the floor in which patrons are invited to leave behind whatever vulnerabilities are caused by looking out for themselves in a noisy and dangerous world and experience only feelings of trust and security. The museum’s director (Claes Bang) undergoes a series of experiences that are the antithesis of this kind of emotional calm, beginning with being robbed on the street of his wallet and phone and going somewhat overboard in his vengeance to get them back; his actions lead to further consequences that distract him from the social media campaign that the museum has concocted to promote the exhibit, trying to go viral on social media with an ad that ignites a firestorm of controversy. A number of skillfully shot, beautifully directed sequences present the various ways that humans have of agreeing upon certain behaviours in certain spaces and the various ways that we react to them being violated: a man with Tourette’s disrupting a Q & A with a pompous modern artist who gives interviews in his pajamas (Dominic West), or cell phones going off during quiet, solemn speeches, and why we choose tolerance for the disruptor in some cases but not in all. Other sequences focus on the contradictions we bring to private spaces, like Claes having sex with journalist Elisabeth Moss but feeling trust issues about his used condom when they’re done. By the time you get to the sequence involving Terry Notary doing primate performance art at a fancy dinner, one of the most boring in a film that is egregiously overwrought, you find yourself beyond sick and tired of being talked down to by this incredibly contrived and uncomplicated lecture in cinematic form. Director Ruben Ostlund applies the same kind of brittle unease to commentary on social behaviour that he brought to his examination of masculinity in crisis in Force Majeure but, because his implicating himself in the story he was telling gave that film far more humour to help make the critical medicine go down. Here the finger-pointing is relentless and, despite being so well shot, is never particularly intelligent enough to justify a ridiculous running time and methodical pace. What you basically have is Holy Motors made without inspiration or La Dolce Vita without any joy, handed to a Cannes jury who believes the common people deserve to suffer for all that social media whining, and you have yourself the Palme D’Or for the Judgmental Age.