The Swedish director Ruben Östlund is a rising star in European cinema. And judging from the buzz about his latest film, The Square, it is only a matter of time before he conquers the United States. Östlund, who is in his early 40s, has a great sense of humor, dabbles with surrealism, loves to construct uncomfortable situations, and digs exploring the consequences of a thoughtless (but revealing) act. Force Majeure, Östlund's previous and best film, is very funny, has an act that irrevocably changes a father and his family, and one surreal moment (a drone that looks like the UFO in Close Encounters of the Third Kind—another film about a bad father). Play, Östlund's first important feature, is not funny at all and has nothing but uncomfortable situations (each involving black immigrant boys robbing or kidnapping or bullying white Swedish boys).
The Square—which is better than Play, but not as good as Force Majeure, though it did win the Palme d'Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival—is funny, has an act that turns a person's world and family upside down, has lots of uncomfortable situations, and uses a dash of surrealism (a chimpanzee that's never really explained).
At the center of all of this is Christian (Claes Bang), the head curator of X-Royal, a huge and powerful modern art museum in Stockholm. Christian is tall, very handsome, and worldly. He speaks English with an upper-class British accent. His clothes are sharp, he always says the smartest things, he can party hard, and he is working on an exhibit that concerns trust and human fragility. One day, three con artists on a city street lure Christian into a clever trap and mug him. He loses his wallet and slick smartphone. Back at the office, and still in a state of shock from what happened to him in broad daylight, he locates his smartphone on the web. It is in a place that we in the US would call the projects. Encouraged by a friend, he decides to take matters into his own hands and does something that changes his life.
From that moment on, Christian's life begins falling apart, and not because what he did (the act) gets him in trouble with the law, but with the art in his gallery, the art he commissioned (which is mostly bad). Before the act, the art was just about names, money, and academic concepts concerning the human condition in a world that has no alternative to neoliberal capitalism. After the act, the art is directly about his life, clothes, car, job, relationships, and city. The art asks: Why is there so much poverty in a rich city? Why is it so easy to ignore beggars? Why is wealth so unfairly distributed? And if it were fairly distributed, would crime vanish? What kind of animal is the human?
The chimpanzee appears in the middle of the film. It is owned by an American journalist, Anne (Elisabeth Moss). While Anne is getting ready to fuck Christian (whom she met at a X-Royal party), he sees the chimpanzee walk past the door, sit on a couch, and begin to draw on a piece of paper. Anne closes the door, says nothing about the chimp, and the fucking begins. This is one of the film's many funny scenes.