Dir: Ruben Östlund
Kino Teatr, St. Leonards

Ostensibly a film about the chronic bullshit afflicting the upper echelons of the art world, this fascinating film gradually leads us, by way of cleverly-honed vignettes, down another path. It opens outside a prominent Stockholm museum where we see a huge display banner advertising the current show; Mirrors & Piles of Gravel. The museum curator, Christian (an absurdly handsome Claes Bang), appears a model of organised efficiency but beneath the surface he is as existentially confused and anxious as everyone else. He is busy preparing the museum’s next installation – The ‘Square’ of the title – a four metre square border dug into the road outside the museum’s entrance. An engraved metal plate bears the legend ‘a sanctuary of trust and caring … within it we all share equal rights and obligations.’ The question posed by the artist is this; how could the square confer any such thing as rights or obligations, particularly in a society so obviously full of social and economic disparity?

These disparities come to the fore when Christian’s phone is stolen in an audacious mugging. He and his assistant track the phone by GPS to a block of flats in a insalubrious no-go area, and come to the conclusion that, although the device cannot pinpoint the individual apartment, they should place a threatening letter in each of the mailboxes, demanding the return of the phone. This rebounds on them when one of the falsely accused rightly objects to the accusations.

The film then embarks on a journey which by way of beautifully shot and often witty set pieces exposes conundrums concerning society’s attitudes to morality, empathy, art and political correctness. Empathy, in particular, is addressed via the film’s one recurring theme, which is, to put it simply, help me? In one long, impressive and very frightening scene, apparently filmed in one shot, a large party of obviously wealthy patrons seated in an ostentatious dining room are challenged to decide how they would react to an outside threat, were the threat directed not at them but at someone else. Motion-capture specialist Terry Notary, as half-ape half-man performance artist Oleg, enters and wanders around the room. The guests timidly allow him to run riot and terrify individuals, until eventually a sort of mob mentality prompts them to react appropriately and violently.

At 142 minutes, The Square’s enigmatic power is ultimately somewhat diluted, but its thought-provoking images linger, and continue to question long afterwards. Recommended.

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