‘Eat the rich’ is a common enough anti-capitalist slogan, and here’s a movie that prods at what that might actually look like in extreme circumstances, begging the further question of whether the rich would be as appetizing if you knew what they were marinated in. Excuse my grammar: if you knew in what they were marinated. Happy now? OK.
Director Ruben Östlund is a big cheese on the European film circuit, collecting his second Palm D’Or at Cannes last year for this satire. If you’ve seen his previous outings, Force Majeur (an avalanche-themed social comedy with beardy Game of Thrones star Kristofer Hivju) and The Square (a skewering of the modern art scene set in Stockholm), then some of the themes of the Triangle of Sadness will be familiar.
Östlund loves to dwell on the tensions between the middle/upper classes and those that serve them in luxurious surroundings, the wasteful, frivolous decadence of the rich, and the conflicting memories that two people might have about the same event. Those are all in evidence here, the former two being the main motif.
The title refers to the patch between a model’s eyebrows, the film opening with a pointed look at catwalk auditions, and introducing us to ernest himbo Carl (a chiseled but dour Harris Dickinson) and his semi-flighty influencer/model girlfriend, Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean Kriek). The first act is a precision dissection of modern sexual and economic morals in a personal, romantic sense, and one which leads to a free jolly on a luxury yacht.
Enter uptight steward Paula (played with perfect intensity by Vicki Berlin), corralling her starch-white uniformed staff to pamper their rich guests with the promise of huge cash tips, all the while the camera panning down to the Filipino cleaners and cooks, none of whom will see these bonuses. The captain seems to be drunk, though it’s hard to tell as he refuses to leave his cabin, but soon enough we’re in the middle of the ocean.
Secret Marxist Captain Thomas (an amusingly wasted Woody Harrelson) pulls it together for the Captain’s Dinner, welcoming a selection of oligarchs, tech billionaires, arms dealers and old money types, and it’s here that the tone shifts. What follows is a visceral and highly scatlogical literal shitstorm, the climax of which has Harrelson locked in his office with a Russian businessman, shouting communist epitaphs over the PA while everyone else swims in their own filth.
A hilariously ironic bout of piracy has the third act set on a deserted island, the few that survive thrown into a whole new society as a woman from ‘the staff’ (the excellent Dolly de Leon) emerges as the only one with the skills to hunt, make fire, or do anything of value. Looks and wealth mean nothing at first, though these things do have corrupting impacts as time passes, even in this apparent desolation.
Money, desirability, influence - these are all just ways to ease transactions of power, and this is laid bare. It’s a satire that’s perhaps more heavy-handed than Östlund’s other films, and the excesses of the rich could be painted in more subtly brutal terms. The director does have a nose for the minutiae of human behaviour, and how it shapes and is shaped by society. There are some laugh-out-loud set pieces, and a belligerent Woody Harrelson is always worth the price of admission. If you’re squeamish, though, you might have to look away for that shocking, mid-movie tidal wave. (PO)
The Triangle of Sadness is playing at the Prytania Theater Canal Place.