Parodying the smug bourgeois and their superior personalities is nothing new. Buñuel did it best in many films. Pier Paolo Pasolini tried but became a parody of himself. Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness” is a cinematic cocktail that is two parts Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and one-part Pasolini’s “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom”.
Östlund’s film is a parade of cartoonish capitalists (aristocrats, war mongers, so-called social media influencers, etc.) who are subjected to public humiliations by the working-class people they look down upon.
Sliced into three parts, “Triangle of Sadness” first enters the viewer into the superficiality of the fashion world. Carl (Harris Dickinson) has aged out n the judgmental eyes of the casting directors. The title comes from the wrinkles that form in between one’s eyebrows.
As Carl is humiliated, a screen illuminates the phrase “CYNICISM MASQUERADING AS OPTIMISM.” Jab at the validity of that world, Check!
Introducing a “leveled playing field” argument, Carl and his significant other Yaya (Charlbi Dean) have a stand-off over the bill to their expensive dinner. Yaya said she would pay. Carl realizes she will not make good on her promise. The moment leads to an argument regarding the gender dynamic financial standing in a relationship.
The second section finds Yaya and Carl on a yacht, which the two have been asked to promote on social media.
Östlund (who wrote the screenplay) fills this segment with a boatload of the embarrassingly wealthy. The yacht’s three decks are used as yet another obvious jab at societal “levels” of class. The rich Whites drink and play in the sun at the top. The white crew members anticipate big winnings regarding tips from their clientele. Lastly, the non-white staff members of lower standing are relegated to the bottom. A pointed observation presented in too simplistic a manner.
The purposeful absurdity increases during the Captain’s Table dinner sequence (which almost screams “I want to be Luis Buñuel!”). Woody Harrelson is great as the ship’s captain. The actor’s wild eyes and stern jaw work for a man whose disgust for the rich shows in every action, the most obvious is his pushback against the chef’s lavish meal, painstakingly prepared for these ingrates. The captain chooses a hamburger instead.
This is the most interesting sequence of the film, and the screenplay treats us to some pointed observations on political and economic unbalance. Sadly, this leads to the unnecessarily wild finale where pure mayhem ensues, and bodily fluids fly.
Östlund is certainly capable of capturing the absurdities of humanity. In Peter Greenway fashion, the filmmaker uses wide shots and long takes to give a full picture on the ludicrousness happening in almost every moment. This is not to say the film doesn’t get wild.
Over the top is an understatement when speaking of “Triangle of Sadness”. The director uses a madcap aura to hit his audience with a blunt satirical impact. It sometimes works, but Östlund’s desire to shock and elicit gasps from viewers dulls the film’s impact.
Ruben Östlund shows rightful contempt for the elites, but he doesn’t know how to properly dissect his criticisms. Lampooning their snooty ways is his strong suit, sharply critiquing them is where he fails.
The screenplay finds some interesting discussions regarding Marxist versus Capitalist ideologies and an examination of using one’s power structure in abusive ways hits a current relevancy, but this has been done before, and by stronger filmmakers.
Buñuel and Pasolini and especially Lina Wertmüller challenged political and sociological norms in some of the most powerfully artistic works in all of World Cinema. Their legacy is strong, and my hat is off to Östlund for reaching for such unattainable heights, but he cannot connect to the legacy of these brilliant artists.
Östlund is unhappy with the oppressive elitist rule and has a lot to say about it, but his cinematic smack down fails to sting. It is his desperately nihilistic approach that cools the sociological fires that could be stoked. When the farcical overpowers the potent, the messages are lost, and everything stalls at surface level.
As characters are doused in projectile vomit and drown in their own diarrhea, any real potency dies in the overwrought cinematic sewage.
Full of class structure ridicule painted with the broadest of brushes, “Triangle of Sadness” begins with pointed analytical observations but spirals into the visceral until becoming boringly obvious.
Triangle of Sadness
Written & Directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Woody Harrelson
R, 147 Minutes, Imperative Entertainment/BBC Films