By Robin Pomeroy
CANNES, France (Reuters) - A sumptuous Stockholm museum filled with grotesquely pretentious conceptual art is at the center of "The Square", a Palme d'Or nominee at Cannes which switches between surrealism, comedy of manners, thriller and social commentary.
As the museum's handsome and successful but flawed curator searches for his stolen mobile phone, the story goes off into wild directions that even the director admitted he struggled to make gel.
The film's highlight is a dinner for the museum's well-to-do patrons where a performance artist leaps from table to table impersonating an ape -- a bizarre, tense and ultimately violent scene.
Variety's Owen Gleiberman called "The Square" "a piece of high-wire sociological suspense" which outstays its welcome: "the more it goes on the less it hangs together".
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw said it "brings some gobsmackingly weird and outrageous spectacle, with moments of pure showstopping freakiness". Both critics admired writer-director Ruben Ostlund's ambition, calling the film a piece of "high-wire" cinema.
Ostlund told reporters: "I was a little bit scared of how to deal with all these layers.
"I was super, super happy when I was reaching 75 percent of the editing or something because then I realized: OK, this will work, it will actually fit together and make a solid film."
The actors said Ostlund was an extremely demanding director, often shooting the same scene more than 70 times.
Lead actor Claes Bang said he performed one speech 100 times.
"Around take 95 he drags me down to the monitor and he points to the monitor and he says: 'Now this is gonna stop. I am not going to have any more of that shitty television acting that you're doing. Now you pull yourself together and you do it for real!'"
"That was like a kick in the head."
"The Square" is in competition for the Palme d'Or at the festival which runs until May 28.
(Additional reporting by Sarah Mills; Editing by Alison Williams and Helen Popper)