Film Review: Triangle of Sadness
All that glitters is not gold.
Ruben Östlund has been sauntering on the catwalk of arthouse cinema with a confident swagger ever since his wonderful Involuntary had its premiere in Cannes over a decade ago. His greatest display to date, The Square, is one of the most refreshing Palme d’Or winners in recent memory – an acidic satire on the pretentious world of art and a scathing, tense dissection of class disparity.
So it’s quite surprising that Östlund slips on a banana peel with The Triangle of Sadness - a film that has so much in common with The Square thematically and basks under the same golden palm as his second Palme d’Or win. They even share a geometrical affiliation in titles, fortifying the bond.
How ironic, then, that The Triangle ends up being a bigger square than The Square.
An influencer and her insecure supermodel fiancé are invited on a luxury yacht, where they mingle with other rich people while the crew desperately try to appease the guests and their obnoxious demands. Some hilarity ensues.
The angles are acute and crystal clear in The Triangle of Sadness. And it’s nothing we haven’t been told before. Rich people are assholes. Oh, really?! How refreshing it would be to make a movie about rich people who aren’t assholes. I think that’s one of the main reasons I find Bruce Wayne so interesting; there aren’t many heroic billionaires with good hearts in today’s pop culture. There are certainly none in Östlund’s latest; a blunt excavation into the rotund underbelly of capitalism, wealth idolatry, and the absolute corruption of absolute money. How dreadfully boring.
It doesn’t help that the film’s central couple, supermodels Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), are anti-heroes in the worst possible way (as in, extremely annoying people impossible to root for), and that the $250 million yacht where most of the story takes place is navigated by Captain Obvious. And I’m not talking about the actual captain, an alcoholic self-proclaimed Marxist played by Woody Harrelson. I’m talking about Östlund’s script and direction in pretty much all the scenes that take place on that yacht, most notably the ones featuring Harrelson’s captain and a Russian ogre-like oligarch (Zlatko Burić), the strongest candidate if the film had to pick a villain (he’s a raging capitalist, obviously).
The film does take an interesting Lord of the Flies twist for its final chapter, but right when it starts to get really good, it comes to an abrupt halt. The ending is the most shocking thing and in the worst way possible because it’s muddied by an ambiguity that arrives too little too late. For a movie predicated around shocking moments conveying an obvious critique – none more shocking or obvious than a sequence of seasickness where vomit and diarrhea mix to remind everyone how rich people are made of the same shit as the rest of us plebs watching this movie – the ending is shockingly disappointing for not being obvious. Stick to your way till the bitter end, I say, even if that way is crass and crude.
But no, Östlund doesn’t have the courage of his convictions but does have the last laugh with a tonally off-balance ending, after committing the cardinal sin of art – obviousness – a hundred times over in The Triangle of Sadness. Subtlety and nuance never were the Swede’s bread and butter, but at least Force Majeure and The Square have more tactful storytelling with a genuine sense of wonder and intrigue. Not to mention characters you can relate to on some frequency, not caricatures who simply serve an ornamental purpose or whose primary function is to amuse the director.
The massive ego behind the camera is felt in nearly every scene, dwarfed only perhaps by the hypocrisy that casts its long shadow over it. A film criticizing rich people, made by rich people and – worst of all – celebrated at the world’s most prestigious international film festival as a great artistic example of satire for the modern age, bloating Östlund’s ego evermore.
If all things come in threes, one worries what this undeserved shower of praise might mean for Östlund’s next geometrical installment.
Thanks for reading Screen Reflections! Subscribe for free.