Film: Triangle of Sadness

If Force Majeure established Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s bona fides as a cinema provocateur, Triangle of Sadness (2022) etches them in stone. This scathing, surreal film isn’t even remotely subtle, but it’s a darkly funny, unsettling evisceration of the rich, joining an ever-lengthening list of recent media in that category of ruthless, finger-pointing satire.

The nominal protagonist of Triangle of Sadness is Carl (Harris Dickinson), an attractive young model currently in a testy relationship with an extremely successful social media influencer named Yaya (Charlbi Dean). Yaya’s much more lucrative career is a point of contention for the young couple, but that doesn’t stop Carl from joining her for a free pleasure cruise on a luxury yacht. Leading the staff of the vessel is smiling, obsequious Paula (Vicki Berlin), who makes every effort to bend over backwards to accommodate the petty whims of her entitled clientele. But the relaxed, indulgent vacation quickly takes several left turns into disaster.

Speaking of indulgence, Triangle of Sadness overstays its welcome more than once, reveling, like its obscenely rich characters, in its excesses. Its heavy-handed messaging renders explicit what might have been better conveyed through its core allegory: the yacht as a symbol of the lopsided, dysfunctional systems of late-stage capitalism that drive a deeply unfair wedge between the upper and lower classes. The clever, subdued slow-build of the set-up for this subtle metaphor takes an unfortunate turn into bludgeoning on-the-noseness about halfway through, right after a truly nauseating, ill-fated meal that pits the yacht’s drunkard, figurehead captain (Woody Harrelson) in a sparring, economic discussion with Russian fertilizer oligarch Dmitriy (Zlatko Burić). One wonders if this sequence, and the overall critique of the film, might have played less obviously if it hadn’t been in English; certainly, while there are moments of similar artistry, Triangle of Sadness doesn’t quite match Force Majeure in its creeping impact. But even when the film spells things out too broadly, it’s still difficult to look away, thanks to its bracing confidence and the talent of its performers. Burić is a comedic standout, and there are other memorable turns from the likes of Alicia Eriksson (as a valiantly beleaguered member of the staff) and Dolly De Leon (as a member of the housekeeping staff who turns the tables on the vacationers during the key final act). Does it say anything other films or shows haven’t said more elegantly? The Menu, Ready or Not, and The White Lotus certainly left deeper, more positive impressions. But Triangle of Sadness is a well executed, quirky take on the theme, and I’m always game for new narratives that gleefully eat the rich.

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