Taking a swipe at the rich and clueless seems to be a thing these days in cinema. THE MENU, which serves up just desserts to a privileged few, just came to our movie screens last week, and one can argue that GLASS ONION, which is streaming now on Netflix, pokes a finger in the eye of one annoyingly outspoken tech billionaire in particular. Now we have TRIANGLE OF SADNESS which, to be fair, came out first but is only arriving at our cinemas now. Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund already has a solid track record for black humour at the expense of the privileged. His 2014 film, FORCE MAJEURE, made light of the façades that couples in a relationship erect while his 2017 film, THE SQUARE, ripped into art snobs. Both these films featured elaborately staged set pieces that were both achingly funny while unsettling at the same time. In TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, Ostlund finds the magic again with a scene that will make many people reconsider their plans for a quiet vacation on the high seas.
Carl (Harris Dickinson, MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL; THE KING’S MAN) is a model in his mid-20s who is quickly aging out of the business. He’s in a relationship with Yaya (Charlbi Dean), a very successful runway model who already knows her days on the catwalk are numbered. She, at least, is transitioning herself to be a social media influencer and is doing quite well at it. Carl feels their relationship dynamic is unbalanced. She earns much more than he does yet she expects him to keep her in the style to which she’s become accustomed.
Through her social media activities, Yaya scores a vacation for the two of them aboard an exclusive super-yacht. With them basking in the tropical sun is a number of well-heeled patrons whose wealth only serves to remind Carl just how low on the privileged totem pole he really is. Unknown to him though, the ship’s crew is equally stratified, with the very white staff working on deck to cater to the guests’ every whim while the very brown and black staff work below to prepare the food, maintain the equipment and clean the toilets. At the helm is Captain Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson, VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE), who would rather hide out in his cabin and get drunk than deal with these poseurs. Duty calls, though, and he has to attend the Captain’s Dinner which, by unfortunate circumstance, coincides with some rough weather. Through a chain of events, Carl suddenly finds himself in a new situation where the social pecking order has been turned upside down.
Östlund has indeed done it again! From the opening scene, TRIANGLE OF SADNESS is both wickedly funny and brutal in its takedown of the privileged. Although Carl gets his ego battered over and over again in the film’s first two chapters, any pity the audience may develop for the poor sap evaporates in the film’s final act when he finally embraces his commoditization. It’s the Captain’s Dinner, however, that will go down in movie history. Much like the avalanche scene in FORCE MAJEURE, this set piece is completely OTT. As one event leads to the next, you know it ought to end but, at the same time, you don’t want it to. Making it all the more gleeful to watch is Harrelson’s performance, which is his best in years. The scene of him greeting the passengers is uproarious. Either the actor has amazing core strength or Östlund shot it on a tilted stage in order to get Harrelson to lean at such an angle without falling over. Dean is brilliant, too, and it’s tragic that the actress passed away so young. This film was her big break and we’ll never get to see where her career would have gone. The film’s breakout star, though, is Philippine actress Dolly de Leon, who plays Abigail, one of the ship’s cleaners. Two weeks ago, de Leon became the first Filipina actress to be nominated for a Golden Globe and she has a strong chance of winning.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May where it won the Palme d’Or — the second time Östlund has taken home the festival’s top prize. Because the film is in English, Sweden couldn’t enter it for Best International Feature Film Oscar consideration but there is still a good chance that it will get a Best Picture Oscar nod. We’ll find out when the nominations are announced on January 24th.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS opens in Hong Kong on Thursday (December 29th). It’s one of my favourite films of the year. Pay attention to the names of the elderly British couple on the yacht.
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