Ruben Östlund’s dark comedy The Square won Cannes’ Palme d’Or award this year and is Sweden’s Best Foreign Language Picture entry. It inspired heated conversation over its audacity and jaundiced view of humanity and its humour. It follows a successful Swedish art gallery curator who lets a ball drop in his tightly ordered life and one misstep launches him into chaos. He fails to check a tone deaf promo video for his latest installation, he looks for revenge for a petty theft, bullies a young boy, plans a gala dinner that goes really wrong, and gets his comeuppance with women. If things weren’t so grim, it would be funny; but it is brilliantly rich and provocative. Claes Bang, who plays Christian, looks on him with compassion and understanding and shared some secrets of the shoot. We spoke with him from Sweden.
The Square is brilliant and authentic and deeply disturbing. What did you think when you read the script?
I thought exactly that actually. The thing about reading the script is I did not read it till I got the part. It’s complicated. With Reuben at a casting session, I was asked read and prepare the speech I give at the museum to the audience. He took me through the whole film like that and we did improvs of 2.5 hours. At the second casting he asked me to read the script before I did it and I thought it was so liberating to work with these improvs and would limit myself result oriented if I read the script we agreed it was a good idea not to. I did one more and at that point I knew the entire script because we’d done so many improvs. I knew the scenes and there were no surprises and it wasn’t completely like I thought it would be. I got to know it in a different way than reading. It was amazing and super interesting and super challenging.
You play Christian, a successful director of an art gallery on a self-destructive path. He makes a lot of bad decisions. What’s wrong with him?
In my mind he somehow he just makes one bad decision. You know, he’s helpful. He helps this woman in the street, then he’s robbed and in a way he puts himself in a stupid situation writing an anonymous letter to force the return of his things. From there on you can imagine.
His moral compass is off but if you ask him he would say he’s a decent guy. I mean he buys food for the homeless. He’s idealistic then he just … At the point where he could actually say something about the film with the child blown to pieces he’s disturbed because he’s had a new letter delivered to him at the 7/11 and he’s preoccupied. He’s got no idea these PR people will actually publish the video without showing it to him.
In the way I see this, he comes into the office, says these drawings look great, keep working. He didn’t say at any time that you can’t publish this before I’ve seen it. You would not do that, you just understand you don’t do something like that. I don’t think he’s bad. You can’t say that all this happens because of this and this. It’s a combination of things that’s what makes it authentic. That’s how life is; you can’t always blame the guy. It’s always a combination that makes up life, not putting a finger on him.
We see human nature at its banal worst, everyone lies and obfuscates.
I think that’s what’s so recognisable about it; you can actually imagine or picture yourself in those situations. I don’t think you could sit through a 2.5 hour film if you couldn’t identify with him. He’s not likable; you don’t wish him anything well. But you sympathise with him.
The little boy who wants restitution from Christian, whom he treats so badly, did you take care to get to know him offset?
Oh my God, yes, he is adorable, you can’t believe it. He’s Bambi personified, he’s the sweetest and I wanted to adopt him right away. When Rueben said action he was a wild animal. You couldn’t believe it, the natural talent. He’s the sweetest, sweetest boy you ever met, calm and nice and he had a wild demon in there. It’s insane. I spent as much time as I could with him.
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