Review: Triangle of Sadness

The main problem with movies that try to be up-to-the-minute is that they invariably feel dated by the time they are actually released, even if “dated” is a problematic construct. The main two characters in Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s second Palme d’Or winner are internet influencers, a concept that seems tired since it’s a vocation that’s already been endlessly sent up in popular culture. Nevertheless, Ostlund gets a lot of comic mileage out of the idea at the outset. Carl (Harris Dickinson) is a model who, despite being young and buff, already appears to be past his sell-by date according to a casting director who recommends he have some Botox work done on the titular real estate between his eyebrows. Actually, it is Carl’s significant other, Yaya (Charlbi Dean), a former model, it would seem, who is the influencer, and as such makes more money than Carl does, a situation that results in one of the most poignantly hilarious precoital transactions ever recorded for the screen. If Ostlund’s purpose is to deride post-millennial capitalism as the ultimate sex game, then he could have just stopped filming after the couple’s charged conversation in their expensive hotel room following dinner in an equally expensive restaurant where the two argue over which of them will pick up the tab.

The rest of the movie is all anti-climax, and while it maintains Ostlund’s cynical outlook with a wry attention to detail it never reaches the same kind of insight. Yaya and Carl join a cruise on a big yacht for free as influencers with a horde of rich older folk from various countries and professions. The dynamics are provided by the interface between these assholes and the below-deck crew, who represent various developing countries but mainly the Philippines. Yaya and Carl are somewhere in the middle—arrivistes in the old concept of the word but with a winking knowledge of class tension, since they most likely grew up under less than middle class circumstances. The scenes on the ship basically comprise black comic sketches predicated on certain national stereotypes: wealthy Russians are stupid, British retirees are good-naturedly racist, Americans don’t give a shit about anything except their own passions. And while some of these episodes achieve a level of jokey discomfort that would be the envy of Ricky Gervais, they don’t amount to anything beyond their own gross pedantry. But Ostlund knows how to make each of them bigger in emotional impact than the last one, and by the time we get to the now infamous seasick scene he’s more than made his point.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the movie, because Ostlund’s opinion about all uses of power is made literal and explicit in the final chapter, which reorchestrates the one-on-one premise of Swept Away into a symphony of survival kitsch. The image I have of the well-dressed elite at Cannes laughing their asses off at all this is funnier than anything in the movie. 

In English, Russian, Filipino, German, French and some other languages I didn’t catch. Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Bunkamura Le Cinema Shibuya (03-3477-9264), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063).

Triangle of Sadness home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Platform Produktion AB, Film i Vast AB, Sveriges Television AB, Essential Filmproduktion GmbH, Coproduction Office Ltd., Societe Parisienne de Production SARL, Coproduction Office ApS, British Broadcasting Corporation, The British Film Institute, Arte france Cinema

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