Ruben Östlund clearly thinks that he deals in unpalatable truths. In Play (2011), a gang of mendacious black kids find themselves protected from the consequences of their actions by the buffer of political correctness; in Force Majeure (2014), postmodern society is presented as a force that conspires to emasculate men; and in The Square (2017), class, race and freedom of speech are obstacles in a successful man's career.
Christian (Claes Bang) is the well-meaning chief curator of Stockholm's premier museum of modern art, who wrongly accuses a working class kid of stealing his wallet, sleeps with a journalist who interviews him (Elisabeth Moss adding depth to the shallow role of unhinged lover), and is forced to resign over a controversial viral video campaign. There are a few funny set pieces, but a few too many tired jokes about conceptual art's dense intellectualism. In a centrepiece scene, which is supposed to exemplify the cruel indifference of Europe's bourgeoisie towards suffering, a performance artist unveils an elderly Muslim woman against her will while high society onlookers do nothing.
There is nothing here that Michael Haneke or fellow Swede Roy Andersson have not done before with more originality. The Square tries to both be a provocation and about provocation, but it is less interested in the social relations it sketches than in the individualist problem of what a man can or cannot supposedly do or say. Politics is treated as etiquette. The Sisyphean ending provides existentialist gloss, but Östlund's viewers are likely to be comforted by it, for it suggests that nothing can be done to change society and that there is something elegant, artful even, in the meaninglessness of men's lives.