After gently skewering Scandinavian masculinity in his intimate 2014 dramedy Force Majeure, writer/director Östlund expands his scope to explore the complexities of a changing Europe in The Square.
Danish actor Claes Bang stars as the aptly-named Christian, the vain director of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm, whose mixed feelings about Sweden's lower castes – immigrants and the homeless, mostly – are thrown into sharp relief after his pocket is picked in a public square. Tracking his stolen mobile phone to a building in a poor part of town unleashes unexpected consequences for Christian; meanwhile, members of his staff embark on a similarly ill-advised "viral" ad campaign for a new exhibit.
Said exhibit is entitled The Square, a modest installation outside the museum that is designed as a "sanctuary of trust and caring". The film itself is a 142-minute examination of what it means to trust and care in modern Western society. Östlund fills his story with satirical and and often absurd challenges to polite Scandinavian liberalism, but his film, at its heart, takes the question very seriously.
The Square rambles at times – I'm not sure it really needed all 142 minutes to make its point – and it has a couple of unexplained scenes and an anticlimactic ending. But it's neither pretentious nor boring. In fact, it's mostly quite fun, full of ideas and droll humor. It is a very Scandinavian film, and because of my roots – my father's a Norwegian immigrant – I may have a stronger connection to the material than others might.
Final note: although Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West share top billing with Bang, Moss (excellent as always) only appears in four scenes; West only in two. The bulk of the film is in Swedish.