The Square

Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017

This is a film about the idiocies and inequalities of modern society in Western Europe. It exposes the contradictions of our bourgeois 21st century life and analyses our behaviour, contrasting civilised with wild, group with individual. Do we help a stranger in need or do we just walk by, stare at the floor? Do we lose ourselves in the herd, fit in and conform, or stand up and stand out? And what kind of risks do we face if we do the latter?

It’s a bit long and rambling – if you’re looking for a tight plot and neat story, go elsewhere – but it’s an excellent social satire and character study. And sharply funny too, in that understated Scandinavian way.

There is some cracking camera work. I particularly remember a turning shot from above as the characters ascend a spiral staircase, twisting upwards into a lower social class’s environment. The whole frame becomes a spiral, a bit like Vertigo but even more. There are lots of stairs in this film, come to think of it. What does that mean? Social mobility?

Oh and there is a hilarious bad sex scene! By which I mean a scene that depicts really bad sex. So passionless! The lights are bright, the couple lack lust, the encounter is awkward and cold; I get a bit bored of sex scenes in films these days, but this was funny and like how one-night stands really happen (I imagine). And it featured condom-wearing! Which you hardly ever see on screen.

Even though it’s 3 years old now (I somehow completely missed it – Palme D’Or winner! Where was I???), the film feels really relevant to watch in these times of self-reflection, as we sift through the society we have created, hopefully discarding anything superfluous or unjust. Wanky viral video marketing campaigns seem incredibly out of touch with what we’ve been through this year. We can’t go back to that.

It makes me wonder if the pre-coronavirus world will appear antiquated to us when we pass this watershed and emerge into a dramatically altered social life. Or not – maybe nothing will change at all.

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