Triangle of Sadness (LFF Review) – An Excessive Movie About Excess

DIRECTOR: Ruben Östlund

CAST: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Burić, Woody Harrelson, Iris Berben, Vicki Berlin, Henrik Dorsin, Jean-Christophe Folly, Amanda Walker, Oliver Ford Davies, Sunnyi Melles

RUNNING TIME: 149 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A privileged group on board a luxurious superyacht find themselves sailing towards disaster…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

This review of Triangle of Sadness was conducted as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko once proudly said in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Unfortunately, it’s a phrase wherein the irony was completely lost on a lot of real-life wannabe Gekkos, and today the inequalities of class, wealth, and power are more prominent than ever due to certain people taking it to heart that greed, for lack of a better word, really is good. While it’s all well and good to point out such stark inequalities, the fact of the matter is that there have been many films released over the past few years that have continuously skewered the affluent lifestyles of those types of people – Parasite, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Feast, you name it – to a point to where there is now a danger of audiences being “wealthed out”, and are getting a bit tired of seeing the same type of skewering over and over.

Perhaps this explains why Triangle of Sadness, the third film by writer-director Ruben Östlund, has been somewhat divisive with viewers. Despite winning the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – making Östlund one of only a handful of people to have won the award twice, having previously bestowed it for his previous feature The Square – audience reaction has been split, with some calling it a triumphant satire, while others have been quick to point out its unoriginal target and easy messages. Personally, there’s a lot to appreciate about the film, but at the same time it is rather indulgent, often to where you feel like it may be ironically less in touch with its much-covered subject than it claims to be.

The film is split into three extended chapters, each of varying length. The first follows a successful young couple, model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and influencer Yaya (Charlbi Dean), as they get into a prolonged argument after Yaya is unable to pay for a meal at a high-class Parisian restaurant. In the second chapter, we see them and a bunch of other wealthy passengers on board a luxury yacht, where they indulge in endless extravagance and entitlement, which the never-say-no staff must endure at all times, even when one of them demands that they “enjoy themselves” by taking a swimming break. Things take a slight turn for the worse when, during a dinner with the ship’s Marxist captain (Woody Harrelson), the vessel is struck by bad weather, grotesque sea-sickness (resulting in one of the year’s most outrageous sequences of bodily function humour), and the attention of local pirates. Only a handful of passengers survive and wind up on a deserted island, which is where the third and final chapter is spent; since none of them harbour any survival skills, the group suddenly looks up to cleaner Abigail (Dolly de Leon), the only one to possess such skills, as their new leader, an appointment which itself leads to some difficult decisions.

Östlund’s film plays into nearly every wealthy stereotype that you could possibly imagine: vapid social media influencers, Russian oligarchs, their trophy wives, arms dealers, and that’s just a handful of the passengers on this ill-fated yacht. They are all written and performed pretty much how you’d expect them to be, ranging from total ignorance of the real problems in the world, to utter cluelessness about how normal things are supposed to work beyond their bubble of privilege. As you might imagine, these are not the freshest portrayals of the super-rich that have ever been created, but in a strange way Östlund anticipates that his viewers have seen these types of grotesque characters before, and just allows for them to be ridiculed and humiliated as much as possible, for the sake of simple catharsis. You certainly wince at these wealthy passengers’ ridiculous requests and demands – even that first chapter, which is predominantly a two-hander between Dickinson and Dean (the latter of whom very sadly passed away recently), is the epitome of “first world problems” – but when it comes to watching these archetypes malfunction in the grossest ways imaginable, it’s oddly satisfying to see them stoop to incredulous depths and reveal that, underneath all their money and their power, they’re the least qualified people to survive in a Lost-like setting.

The filmmaker plays deeply with dark humour and social commentary as it puts on this production of mindlessness, and a lot of this does come through in that third chapter, which is easily dominated by stand-out Dolly de Leon who pretty much steals this remaining slice of the movie. However, Triangle of Sadness perhaps suffers from a similar problem to that of The Wolf of Wall Street, wherein there is such a thing as too much greed, even for these people we’re watching. At almost two and a half hours, the film feels its length, because Östlund pads out scenes with dialogue and physical humour long after the audience has gotten the point, and until we end up on this island it feels bare in its vital storytelling. It’s also the kind of film that ends just when things are about to get a whole lot more interesting, which in some respects does allow for a sense of ambiguity regarding the fate of certain characters, but it really does feel more like an abrupt stop rather than a truly satisfying conclusion to a rather meandering story, where its ideas are more fascinating than parts of its execution.

At its best, the movie is an interesting commentary on the uselessness of wealth in real-life situations, and there are some lively turns by members of the ensemble which elevate the otherwise waffly story, as they make the most out of committing some darkly funny acts on-camera. However, if you’re already worn out by Hollywood’s ripping apart of loathsome affluent figures in society, Triangle of Sadness might be a skewering too far, for as much fun as it has with deconstructing these types of people, what it’s saying at its core isn’t anything that you haven’t heard before.

There’s definitely ambition and scope behind it, but Östlund’s Palme D’Or winner isn’t as good as the greed it often promotes.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Triangle of Sadness is an ambitious but meandering satire of the affluent members of society, which certainly has fun laughing at the ridiculous, and sometimes gross, nature of their obscenely wealthy lifestyles, but lacks cohesion in the storytelling to really make a lot of its interesting ideas truly pop.

Triangle of Sadness will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 28th October 2022.

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