Runtime: 149 minutes
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Writer: Ruben Ostlund
Starring: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Buric, Henrik Dorsin, Vicki Berlin, Woody Harrelson
By Calum Cooper
Ruben Ostlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” (2022) is as chaotic as its title is eye-catching. Winning the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this absurdist class satire has much going for it in terms of comedy, style and substantive themes. It may not get points for subtlety, but then again ambiguity is not what this film is going for. It is a hard and deliberate slap in the face towards those of whom it aims to mock.
Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean play Carl and Yaya, a couple who both work as fashion models. Carl feels emasculated due to Yaya’s quantifiably more successful career. The pair are invited to spend some time on a superyacht, where only the richest of the rich convene. Among the odd collection are a Russian capitalist (Zlatko Buric), a British weapons manufacturing couple, and a communist drunkard who captains the yacht (Woody Harrelson). What is meant to be a luxury getaway soon descends into a chaotic series of mishaps.
“Triangle of Sadness” is a pretty direct “eat the rich” movie. A film full of revolting characters and moments, it satirises the 0.01% of humanity who lavish in excessive affluence, often at the expense of morality, self-awareness and those who provide the labour they benefit from. Ostlund uses the inherent morbidness of affluent culture, as well as the staggering disconnect from reality many of them suffer from, in order to highlight just how disgusting the lifestyles and mentalities of those who live with such wealth are.
Disgusting is an apt word, for there is an overindulgent quality to the film that one can’t help but feel queasy at. The bright colours and opulent production design would be considered glamorous in another film, but is dialled up here to the point of sickening showiness. The way Fredrik Wenzel’s cinematography lingers on events just a little too long creates an ironic juxtaposition, in which the seeming beauty of the setting becomes vulgar instead. That’s not to mention the literal cases of mass bodily fluids that eventually dominate the second act of the feature. Ostlund’s direction is committed to detailing the sheer grossness of the supposed high life.
The ultimate result is something of utter absurdity that conveys riveting themes. Split into three defined acts, the film goes from a lover’s quarrel about money and their absurd wealth to a whirlwind of vomit-inducing moments – both figural and literal – to a survival film that reaffirms the inequality of capitalist structures. It is a wild, wild film, but the actors do a great job of selling the material. Dickinson and Dean have great hateful chemistry as lovers who don’t seem to like anything about each other, while increasingly drunk conversations between Harrelson’s communist and Buric’s capitalist prove as funny as they are bafflingly ironic. Yet, in the third act, it is Dolly de Leon who becomes the scene stealer as Abigail, a working class cleaner who exploits an opportunity presented to her through circumstance. With her insubordinate bluntness being matched only by her smarts, Abigail is a riotous character who proves an effective foil to the smug, entitled, and ultimately pathetic elites who occupy much of the film.
“For those who value smart class commentary, wrapped in top notch production design and entertainment, then “Triangle of Sadness” is one that’ll repulse the eyes but greatly satisfy the mind.”
All of this is strong material, but “Triangle of Sadness” has a habit of being somewhat meandering. The scenes are deliberately structured to go on for long periods of time, so as to heighten the discomfort. However, for a portion of the film, it seems to be more of a montage than a definitive narrative. It’s entertaining, but it initially seems to lack a point. Luckily, once the third act begins, the film comes together with the force of a gut punch. A development occurs that forces certain characters together. Even though the hierarchy is completely reshaped by the circumstances, the overall inequality of capitalist structures creeps in and eventually re-settles into their new order.
Essentially, Ostlund is arguing that the capitalist structure that allowed the ultra-rich to become so wealthy – in which a few individuals reap the rewards from what the majority have sowed – is like a leech. Even in communities that have been wiped of the gluttonous affluence and given a clean slate, the inherent avarice of this ideology finds a way to oppress the many in favour of the few. Combine that with the nauseating imagery, detestable characters and absurdist tone throughout, and we get a film that is as wickedly smart as it is morbidly engaging.
The French title for “Triangle of Sadness” is “Sans Filtre”, which translates to “Without Filter”. It’s amusing to see a film describe itself so accurately. For those who are easily queasy, “Triangle of Sadness” is perhaps a little too intense. But for those who value smart class commentary, wrapped in top notch production design and entertainment, then “Triangle of Sadness” is one that’ll repulse the eyes but greatly satisfy the mind.