Part morality play, part satire, The Square walks a curious line between taking the mickey out of the high art world, and ennobling its pursuits.
The story follows Stockholm contemporary art gallery curator Christian (Claes Bang) as he goes about his daily life, dealing with PR and marketing people, schmoozing the media and introducing new exhibitions.
A new exhibition called The Square is due to arrive at the gallery and Christian and his team are hard at work coming up with ways to promote it. The idea behind the exhibition is that a 4m x 4m square becomes a place of moral dignity and responsibility - all who stand inside it must behave humanely.
This quickly becomes the overarching theme of the whole film, and we watch the characters grappling with doing the right thing versus reacting out of anger, fear, greed and selfishness.
At the outset of the film, Christian is the victim of a petty crime - a situation that escalates when Christian decides to get revenge.
Underpinning this are numerous narrative sidelines; an awkward romance with American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss), a YouTube PR disaster and Christian’s relationship with his two daughters.
The high art setting of the film gives the film its funny weirdness. We see groups of elderly donors jigging arthritically at a gallery opening, emotionally fraught conversations set against the rattling of a mixed media installation, comedic moments when a cleaner accidentally sweeps up part of an exhibition.
There are many levels to this film - there’s Swedish social commentary around rich versus poor and the prejudice of the privileged, there’s the golden vein of comedy mined from the modern art world, and then there’s Christian himself, a blindingly handsome man struggling not to exploit his abundant sexual and professional power.
The downfall of The Square is its length and obtuseness. It runs for an agonising 142 minutes and there are some very out there plot elements - like Anne’s pet chimpanzee - that are never mentioned or explained. This takes what could be a reasonably mainstream film into surrealist territory that errs on the wrong side of WTF.
The Square opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday March 1st.