Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund has a unique talent: stretching an awkward moment as much as possible, and then stretching it even further. It's there in his 2014 breakthrough comedy-drama Force Majeure, which follows a father fleeing an avalanche and leaving his family behind. And it’s there in his new, Odyssean Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness.
The first corner of the film’s triangular structure follows Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), a pair of models/influencers navigating the silly surfeits of their industry. They have dinner together as an Insta-couple… and then the bill comes. A torturous silence follows as Yaya, the more successful of the two, scrolls through her phone and formulaically thanks Carl for paying despite him doing nothing of the sort. A familiar argument ensues.
Most directors would cut away, and spare you the social torture. But not Östlund. He sticks to the couple’s explosive fracas, which spirals into an eternity of arguments about stereotypical gender roles and 'unsexy' money concerns. It’s unbearable, and it’s hilarious: like the film as a whole.
Charlbi Dean as Yaya. Photo: Plattform Produktion
The second and most prominent part of the Triangle takes place on a luxury yacht, organised into a class hierarchy. The wealthy customers are at the top, followed by the smiling and dutiful crew members, the luxury chefs, and then the apathetic cleaners at the bottom.
Östlund creates his own floating world and society with this opulent ship, captained by an alcoholic Marxist (a comically compelling cameo from Woody Harrelson) who doesn’t surface for days. Not until the worst possible moment, when everything collapses into liquid chaos.
This critic won’t reveal the details – it’s an experience best delivered fresh – but you’re likely to clap a hand to your mouth: either from nausea or from laughing too much (or both). It’s a scene that competes with Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life in terms of funny digestive anguish, so bring a strong stomach and a robust pair of lungs.
Arvin Kananian and Woody Harrelson as Darius and The Captain. Photo: Plattform Produktion
The Triangle’s concluding corner – its weakest – involves a desert island. The impracticality of the rich battles the resourcefulness of the poor, and the former boat society reverses into a new island system. Those making money from selling brands, weapons and fertiliser are now useless in a basic survival scenario.
Up until this point, you don’t feel the superfluous 150-minute runtime. There’s pleasure in the plotlessness: watching ludicrously wealthy characters behave with bilious politeness, impersonating a false atmosphere of social equality. And with superb jokes plastered into every scene. The dialectic back-and-forth between the American socialist captain and a Russian capitalist oligarch (Zlatko Buric) is a personal highlight.
But the final act shoves in a goal, a purpose, that's comparable to reality TV. It’s an overly long, but enjoyable, finale to an endlessly entertaining black comedy.
Is Östlund saying the human race would be better off as Luddites from capitalism, forsaking material goods for the bare necessities? Strangely, Triangle of Sadness isn’t so profound: it’s a mishmash of socio-political ideas, jabs and escalations – scrambled into a rich satire about the richest people. It's a fun, disgusting triumph.
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2022. Triangle of Sadness will be in UK cinemas on Friday 28 October.
|What||Triangle of Sadness review|
28 Oct 22 – 28 Oct 23, IN UK CINEMAS
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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