Ruben Östlund is ready for it all to burn to the ground. A director who knows how to have a good time is also ready for total destruction of the world we have all too carelessly accepted. A world where art is a commodity and only those who reap from its financial benefit gets to dictate our next move. He is also a director that just wants his audience to have as wild of a time as they possibly can. To go in as many directions as possible all while sticking to his never ending themes of money and power that comes with it. TRIANGLE OF SADNESS the latest Palme d’Or winner is a two and a half hour satire that can only be described as a “glorious shitshow.” A film that spends its time taking you on a ride that will leave you angry, disgusted and howling with laughter. Much like last year’s Titane it’s the rare film today that is made for the big screen and manages to sneak its way into the most prestigious of film festivals just to poke fun at everyone in attendance. A film that never lets up and is as subtle as a boat blowing up into the abyss. So hop on board and sail away into the fire.
Everyone knows the fashion world is as jaded as they come. In fact it’s downright cruel. We’ve all seen those fashion photo shoots that look as enjoyable as as having a root canal. You know the ones where the model just looks miserable and is somehow going for sexy. Well what you may not know as Östlund mocks is that the richer the product the unhappier must you look. Carl (Harris Dickinson) knows this. A young upcoming model is first seen at an audition where a moderator reminds him and all the other models that smiling in photos is for the cheap stuff. Balenciaga is for the rich and important so don’t smile. Smile for the cheap H&M stuff. It’s a hilarious segment that lets you know it all. Östlund doesn’t care about being subtle and neither should you. This stuff sucks and as Carl is able to keep up with this cynical world he feels both lost and bewildered by it. It also doesn’t help his ego that his new girlfriend Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) is a much more successful model that never chooses to pick up the tab. Yaya models for companies that have jumped on the whole “everyone is equal” motif as they express in their fashion runways shows that have no problem kicking people out of their seats for more rich and powerful attendees. Dean who sadly passed away merely few weeks ago leaves her mark the second she is on screen. Remarkable with just a glance Dean has terrific timing being stuck in her phone knowing the bill will be taken care of all while playing innocent to the fact. Their relationship is one of inequality which drives Carl mad. It’s bad enough she makes more, but not even reaching for the check, well that requires a fight that lasts the entire night, and one he keeps bringing up even after things seem settled.
Eventually like most uber rich people the two of them find themselves on luxuries yacht. A ship made for the 1% of the 1 percent where its members are arms dealers, a Russian capitalist, and an array of idiotic powerful people that move the world. Yaya and Carl are there thanks to Yaya’s influencer money which means spending the days finding the perfect iPhone photo. This is a movie where you take a photo pretending to enjoy pasta but never eat it because you’re gluten free. It also features a ship where the staff is run by a boss Paula (Vicki Berlin) that reminds her staff that “No” is not an answer that is allowed to be given to the guests. After all who cares if you get them illegal drugs because at the end you may receive a major tip. Beneath the deck are immigrant workers who will never see a tip bestowed their way but if a guest wants them to drop everything they work at to spend time with them at the pool then obey they will. Östlund uses this act (the film is told in three acts) to have as much fun as he can dream of. Nothing can prepare you for what’s in store when the drunken captain (Woody Harrelson) decides to move the elegant captain’s dinner to the one day they hit rough seas. In a time where adult focused films barely see the theater this film is begging to be seen with the biggest crowd possible. To experience something truly hysterical and repulsive. So repulsive you just can’t look away. Östlund knows exactly what he’s doing and even chooses to tilt the camera to add to the already nausea you may be feeling. Sure he wants you to have a good time, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have some devious fun making you feel ill in the process.
(Some spoilers ahead)
Östlund eventually brings his characters into a world where everything is stripped away. Where most films run out of steam TRIANGLE chooses to start over and take on a very different approach that also involves a maid Abigail (a remarkable Dolly De Leon) finally getting to take charge of the people who see her as nothing worth while. TRIANGLE even after two hours still chooses to shock and disturb you in the most comical sense. Yes there are several scenes that are pretty hard to watch but it’s all in service of being as hysterically cruel as possible and all to a group of people who haven’t faced opponents in quite some time. Even Carl with all his insecurities and love for Yaya doesn’t want any other life than the glamorous one he’s been exposed to. Even when it means his happiness. Dickinson who is a walking Abercrombie model brings such a uniqueness to a role that almost has you convinced to feel bad for. The late and great Charlbi Dean excels more at winning your affection but it too is at a great arm’s length. It’s not that we can’t empathize with people regardless of their successful economic status but it brings forth the notion that should we even try when we’ve been scorned much and have been proven time and time again that nothing changes.
TRIANGLE chooses to have fun until the end even on the cruelest of fashions but it never steps away from its stance set within its opening moments. It is the kind of film we need more of. One that isn’t afraid to shock even when you think you know the surprise is coming. It never belittles its audience but it does require them to keep up even when giving you plenty of time to do so. But thankfully above all else it wants you to have a great fucking time. Middle on in the film Östlund gives us a scene where Yaya is at the bar all decked out while Carl sits nearby reusing to dance. It takes a stranger and a familiar dance tune ( Modjo’s Lady has never been used so perfectly) to lighten the mood. It may seem like another scene in a sea full of them, but it reminds us while we may not want to become as heartless as those in power there is still this longing to have a great time even if it means choosing when to be with others on your own volition. The difference is that when the money and success go away, so so does the party…for some. But even if the successful and corrupt will descend into madness many can take solace in the fact that when the ship goes down the rest of us will be dancing, drinking their champagne bidding the rest bon voyage and good riddance.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS IS IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE OCTOBER 7