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30 May 2017

The Square Has Won the Top Prize of Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival

by Tamara Dumas and Joe Alvarez

Ruben Östlund, the Swedish filmmaker behind the drama, previously also won the Jury Prize in the 2014 festival's Un Certain Regard section for "Force Majeure."

Christian, played by Claes Bang, is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations.

Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for “The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis.

“Just as with FORCE MAJEURE,” commented film director Ruben Östlund, “THE SQUARE is a drama/satire. I wanted to make an elegant movie, with visual and rhetorical devices to provoke and entertain viewers. Thematically the lm moves between topics such as responsibility and trust, rich and poor, power and powerlessness. The growing beliefs in the individual and the declining beliefs in the community. The distrust of the state, in media and in art.”

He went on to continue: “My father told me that his parents let him run around and play in downtown Stockholm at the age of six. They simply put an address tag around his neck in case he got lost. This reminds us that at that time, other adults were seen as trustworthy members of a community that could help a child if he ran into trouble, while today’s social climate does not seem to strengthen group cohesiveness, nor our trust in society; we now tend to see other adults as a threat to our children. With these thoughts in mind, Kalle Boman and I developed the idea of THE SQUARE, an art project addressing trust in society and exploring the need to reassess our current social values.”

Christian has a lot of different sides to him: he is both idealistic in his words and cynical in his deeds, both powerful and weak, and so on. He is convinced that “The Square“, is a ground-breaking idea and truly wants art to bring people new thoughts, but at the same time he is a social chameleon who knows how to play his high-status part at the institution and to navigate the expectations of the sponsors, the visitors, the artists, etc.

Christian, faces questions we all face, of taking responsibility, trusting and being trustworthy, behaving morally at an individual level. And when he encounters a dilemma, his individual actions conflict with the moral principles he stands for. Christian will appear as a walking contradiction, just as many of us are. At the end of the film, we must evaluate if he learned his lesson.

Expect dark humour, PR mockery, cynicism ... and a monkey.