TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Directed by: Ruben Ostlund
Sweden, Germany, France, UK
RAD TIMES review by - By Komal Biradar
Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness is an eviscerating social satire and a hilarious watch. This take down of the elite is tells its story in three acts. Each of the three parts of the film feel like a short film in themselves with the first act introducing us to two models Carl and Yaya on a dinner date. The act sees the two arguing when Carl realises that Yaya has no intentions of paying the bill despite saying that she would the previous night.
The whole act is a prologue of sorts to the rest of the film, and a strong one at that. The sharp dialogue exchanges between the two models turns into a discussion of gender roles and the nature of transactional relationships, which seem to be issues that the film hopes to explore. Unfortunately, Triangle of Sadness fails to deliver any actual substantive exploration of these issues, and remains a film with more style than substance.
The second act of the film is set on a yacht where Carl and Yaya have been invited to promote the cruise on their social media. In this act, we are introduced to a medley of colourful characters; a group of people so filthy rich that they are entirely out of touch from what the lives of common people look like. Ostlund loves to put his characters in awkward situations, often with conversations being drawn out for several minutes without any cuts. The longer some of these scenes go on for, the more uncomfortable they are for the audience to watch. Ostlund is great at perfecting the details in every scene to bring out the tension between the characters. The act strings together a series of scenes where these uber-rich folk so far-removed from reality make decisions without any regard for those around them. At one point, Carl gets a crew member fired because he catches Yaya’s eye, an elderly woman insists on a crew member getting into the pool in her uniform despite her expressing her discomfort, and the wife of a rich businessman repeatedly asks for the sails to be cleaned, even though the ship has no sails. The film takes jabs and satirizes the behaviours of these self-obsessed and narcissistic elite, although at times the satire is a bit too on the nose to feel relevant. Triangle of Sadness does not leave much to unpack thematically, and is upfront about its subject matter. Subtlety is not Ostlund’s strong suit, which at times works out in favour of the film.
The film comments on the nature of the bourgeoise and the futility of the fashion industry, social media, and luxury cruises, all without saying much. The scene where all the passengers suffer from an intense bout of sea-sickness presents its message loud and clear: that no amount of money in the world can buy a solution to illness, and that the rich are not immune to everything. The hilarious sequence makes you queasy while watching and yet one cannot help but laugh at the misery of the elite. This hilarious sequence of multiple people projectile vomiting and reeling from the effects of food poisoning is intercut with a conversation between the Marxist captain of the chip, portrayed by the brilliant Woody Harrelson, and a capitalist Russian businessman who comes from hoards of generational wealth. Their conversation about whether of not communism is a viable political system is riveting to watch and the irony of these wealthy men on a cruise discussing the best system to remedy the issues of the poor while the working class crew is busy cleaning up the vomit of the passengers, seems to be lost on them. Amongst all this pandemonium, we also see intercuts of the crew cleaning up the aftermath of the passengers’ sickness. The film draws a contrast between the passengers and the crew from early on, showing at the beginning of the cruise how the white crew members are excited about the potential tips they will receive, and the non-white, poorer staff sitting at the hull.
The final act of the film is one that reverses all roles and strips the rich of what gives them power. As the ship capsizes, it leaves a handful of the passengers stranded on an island with no one to turn to for help. One of the crew members who was a cleaning lady on the ship gains a position of unexpected power, being the only one in the group with actual survival skills. This act really drives home Ostlund’s message about the artificial and manufactured nature of social hierarchies and how easy it is to lose all that makes one seem more powerful than those around them.
Although an immensely entertaining watch, it must be acknowledged that the film lacks much nuance or relevant commentary on wealth inequality. The film doesn’t even necessarily provide a critique of existing systems with much depth, but what it does instead is mock these systems and explores what would happen if these systems that enforce inequalities were to unravel. Overall, the film was highly entertaining and a potent social satire.
SUBSCRIBE TO RAD TIMES NEWSLETTER ON: www.rasaaurdrama.com