Swedish film-maker Ruben Ostlund follows up the stunning Force Majeure with a hilariously excruciating exploration of the limits of social decorum.
Danish actor Claes Bang stars as Christian, curator of a Stockholm museum that hosts high concept art installations and performances. While navigating the marketing challenges of an upcoming exhibition, Christian is robbed of his phone and wallet and goes down something of a rabbit hole in attempting to retrieve them. Then the campaign for the new exhibition explodes in controversy, thrusting Christian into a professional crisis at the same time his assumptions about his personal life are beginning to falter.
The fascination with human awkwardness that Ostlund demonstrated in Force Majeure is in full swing in The Square, which won the top prize at Cannes and was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at this year's Oscars.
It more or less plays out as a series of set pieces centred around escalating social tension, each more squirm-inducing than the last. The individual power of these sequences is so pronounced that the story's linearity is somewhat undermined, resulting in a more episodic film experience. It's like a Saw movie if you replaced actual torture with the torture of embarrassment.
Bang makes for a perfectly po-faced protagonist, and there are brief yet hugely impactful supporting turns from Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale) as a journalist, Dominic West (The Affair) as an artist and, in the film's most memorable sequence, stuntman/motion-capture specialist Terry Notary (The Hobbit, Kong: Skull Island) as a performance artist who torments rich art patrons by behaving like a gorilla at a snooty dinner.
The pleasures offered up by The Square resist being described as "pleasurable". Make no mistake, this is an absolutely amazing film, but you'll spend much of it watching through your fingers.
Elisabeth Moss, Claes Bang
M (Violence, sexual violence, offensive language & sex scenes)
Fascinatingly, excruciatingly unnerving.