Triangle of Sadness – Film Review

Sadness is unwittingly associated with Ruben Östlund’s latest film Triangle of Sadness given the sudden passing of one of its lead actors, Charlbi Dean. This poignancy does shine an additional spotlight on Dean’s impressive performance as the model Yaya in Östlund’s biting class satire which borders on slapstick, upon a cruise ship holiday, as his first English language film. Triangle of Sadness has also received recognition after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2022, for the second time in Östlund’s career.

Triangle of Sadness as a follow up to the award winning The Square again outlines Östlund’s penchant for incisive social commentary. Many of the same elements are present with an indictment of the hypocrisy in effect concerning wealth inequalities and the exposure of seemingly ‘out of touch’ individuals who reside in ivory towers and microcosms detached from the reality of everyday living for many citizens. Östlund on this occasion has directed a more accessible film, not least as there are bigger profiled actors attached, as the film follows a typical three-part narrative. Each segment is a discrete story which has divided viewers in preferences as the film changes tack during its runtime. Östlund’s direction is omnipresent as a guide through the segments with a title card providing that clue to the dimensions involved.

Woody Harrelson in Triangle of Sadness
Woody Harrelson in Triangle of Sadness

Whilst there may be many comments about the satirical nature of Triangle of Sadness, this is the type of film where knowing as little as possible before viewing is the best strategy. The beauty of Triangle of Sadness is its ability to surprise without indication of the direction in which Östlund will veer the storyline. As such a range of themes are covered from the land to the sea, motion sickness sufferers are forewarned, and Östlund exploits that notion of ‘eat the rich’ graphically.

Östlund does not shy away from attacking the influencer/ social media obsessed generation alongside the affluent. Indeed, Triangle of Sadness’ scathing attack on privilege, does not present the affluent in a sympathetic light. There is the critique of the nouveau riche, the aspirational and those from the chattering classes. All of which are given the same condemnatory treatment by Östlund with a bleak examination of their motivations and interactions with employees and hospitality staff.

The film via its observation of the models Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya’s relationship brandishes a feminist spirit, and explores substantial gender-based themes and salary equity, as the women are occupying a better position in such industry. However, Östlund’s incisive direction uncompromisingly examines the notion of pretty privilege too in this age of Instagrammable perfectly curated life experiences. Following their storyline extends the analysis of privilege as they holiday on a cruise thus providing that insight in to the behaviour of others also possessing levels of privilege in society, all of whom do not escape Östlund’s scrutiny.

Charlbi Dean and Dolly de Leon in Triangle of Sadness
Charlbi Dean and Dolly de Leon in Triangle of Sadness

Similar to films such as the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and La Grande Bouffe there is an analysis of the superiority complex, capitalism and any underlying bourgeois seediness. Östlund’s depiction of the bourgeois is brutal and brash – they are absurd, power driven and painted in a grotesque, gaudy and vulgar manner in Triangle of Sadness. As such, Triangle of Sadness is certainly a blunt and audacious film with its brittle outlook of the affluent. But, it is amusing to watch male complaints about unequal earning power in the fashion world, a competition of quotes about Marxist theories of inequality amongst the people and also a Lord of the Flies style wrestle for power. Östlund has a lot to say and does not hold back with unflinching scenes deliberately designed to shock or repulse.
The film also reveals remarkable performances from Dickinson and Dolly de Leon, who truly shines as Abigail, with superb chemistry between them and Dean. Woody Harrelson is on form too and truly in his element as the wise cracking philosophical Captain.

In Triangle of Sadness, Östlund once more flexes his political arsenal and allows his dark, risqué sense of humour to be observed within a unique, riveting tale. It is a witty film that will encourage many a philosophical debate. Whilst there are sections where a joke has lasted too long and therefore drags, these moments thankfully are few and far between during the film’s lengthy runtime. Triangle of Sadness is a hilarious satire which certainly cements Östlund’s place as a director that continues to push the boundaries and one who is bold enough to challenge his audience’s prejudices in the process.

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