Since its premiere in Cannes this year, dark comedy Triangle of Sadness has divided critics and audiences alike with its attempt at social commentary on power relations. Its take on economy, race, gender and more might not be ground-breaking, but it’s still a deliciously entertaining, Palme-d’Or winning film from Swedish director Ruben Östlund.
The film, set in three acts, starts by focusing on the relationship of two privileged models, Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson) who discuss their gender roles, money and their personal traumas. When Yaya is invited to promote a super-luxury cruise experience, and invites Carl along with her, the film moves into the second act, where the flagrant riches and immorality of the guests are on full display.
We meet caricatured characters ranging from oligarch Dmitry (Zlatko Buric), to a seemingly harmless elderly British couple who turn out to be weapons manufacturers. They are served by a white yachting staff, and cleaning and maintenance staff who are largely ethnic minorities, hidden from the guests’ view. As if the commentary wasn’t obvious enough, the audience are also force-fed a drunken capitalist-communist debate between Dmitry and the yacht’s captain (Woody Harrelson).
Observing that these events take place on a “250 million dollar luxury yacht”, Harrelson’s character might as well have looked straight down the camera lens to tell us explicitly that the world is, believe it or not, unequal.
Still, the comedy in this confluence of characters, which turns eat-the-rich cathartic when the cruise and its guests meet an untimely end, is thoroughly entertaining. When the remaining characters end up on a desert island, survival skills become the most meaningful currency, and the dynamics of the former guests and crew change instantly.
As you might have gleaned, Triangle of Sadness is packed with plot; so much so that it ends up a lengthy two and a half hours. But, given that the film does all the thinking for the audience, it is still an easy watch, with a capable cast playing love-to-hate characters with relish.
If the film’s goal is to lecture the audience on global power relations – which I don’t think it is, but rather just to present what those relations might mean at their extreme – it is slightly undermined by its posters. These promote in name the young and privileged white actors – Dean and Dickinson – as well as the already established Harrelson in his cameo role. Lesser known Filipina actress Dolly de Leon, is not granted this promotion, even though her performance has already gained her a Palme d’Or for Best Supporting Actress at Cannes.
On the whole, the film is self-conscious, and for that it’s an entertaining satire. It may not offer anything new in commentary, but with a maximalist plot, flamboyant characters and stylish surroundings, it’s a cruise worth embarking on.
Written by Joe Marshall