Ruben Östlund’s savage satire of the global leisure class vomits up its cake and eats it too
Rarely has a film been more satisfied with itself than Triangle of Sadness. And I can’t think of any movie that’s more disdainful and critical of its audience than this one. Triangle of Sadness is a savage denunciation of the louché global leisure class. It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, where it received a rousing 20-minute standing ovation. From film people. On the French Riviera.
Swedish director Ruben Östlund, best-known in the U.S. for his equally savage but very funny ski-resort-disaster comedy Force Majeure, tells the story of a luxury-yacht cruise gone very wrong, a kind of Gilligan’s Island from hell scenario. Our main characters Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) play a couple of gorgeous Euro models in a shallow relationship who get on the cruise for free because Yaya is an Instagram influencer. They encounter a series of rich older people, each one more vile than the next. A Russian fertilizer magnate (“I sell shit,” he says, with great self-awareness), looks like a good global citizen compared with a British couple that got rich by manufacturing land mines and hand grenades. Presiding over the “Captain’s dinner” is a drunkenly brilliant Woody Harrelson, who stays in his fancy cabin all day reading Noam Chomsky and Frantz Fanon.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Ruben Östlund
Written by: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Woody Harrelson, Dolly DeLeon, Vicky Berlin
Running time: 140 min
The weather starts getting rough, and the greatest torrent of barf onscreen since Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life ensues. Soon the yacht is awash in puke and shit, and then the disaster really strikes, from a surprise source.
The movie’s back third is a kind of castaway dramedy, which finally reveals Triangle of Sadness’s main character: Abigail, a Filipina “toilet maid”, brilliantly played by Dolly DeLeon. It’s an astonishing, layered performance, almost certain to nab her nominations and awards. Abigail proves to be the only person with any actual survival skills, and establishes a kind of makeshift matriarchy while enjoying her newfound power.
Triangle of Sadness has many things to say about gender relations, and social class, and money, and status. And it says them with the loudest megaphone imaginable, like a bougie undergrad just discovering that the capitalist system inherently contains hypocrisies and contradictions. It saves its strongest fusillades for an easy but fun target: global tourism and luxury consumption. It’s a theme that resonates in the upcoming movie ‘The Menu,’ as well as, most strongly, in Mike White’s ‘The White Lotus,’ which starts its second season on HBO on Sunday.
The White Lotus doesn’t soft-pedal its attacks on tourism-based land grabs and native exploitation. But it does temper them with some softer, more insightful character moments, while still not skimping on the scatological outrageousness. Triangle of Sadness takes on the same themes, and does so with a lot of artistry, but it’s didactic and cynical where The White Lotus is more realistic and warm. The film contains some jaw-dropping scenes and images, but its characters, with the possible exception of Abigail, are types for Östlund’s sounding board. He invites us to feel bad about ourselves, and, in doing so, we end up celebrating the very things he criticizes. So we end up admiring the movie from a distance, like it’s a model in a runway show that’s projecting Karl Marx quotes on the rear wall.
I have to give Triangle of Sadness a recommendation, a “fresh” rating for the Tomatometer. It’s too well-made, well-acted, and provocative to ignore the quality. But it inspires more self-satisfaction than self-reflection. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, this movie would be lost.