'Triangle of Sadness' Blows Chunks All Over the Rich

Directed by Ruben Östlund

Starring Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Burić, Iris Berben, Vicki Berlin, Henrik Dorsin, Jean-Christophe Folly, Woody Harrelson

Photo: Fredrik Wenzel / Plattform Produktion

BY Rachel HoPublished Oct 7, 2022

A TIFF Official Selection and this year's winner of Cannes Film Festival's famed Palme d'Or, Triangle of Sadness is writer and director Ruben Östlund's biting satire and criticism about elitism, celebrity and superficiality. With housing markets around the world ballooning and the cost of living becoming untenable for many, Östlund's film couldn't have come at a better time.

Social media influencer Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and her model boyfriend Carl (Harrison Dickinson) are invited aboard a luxury yacht. In the beginning, the voyage is a microcosm of the rich and fabulous, with champagne available at a moment's notice and deckhands ready to tend to a guest's every whim. While the head of the crew, Paula (Vicki Berlin), is determined to give the guests the ultimate experience, no matter how ridiculous a request, the ship's captain, Captain Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson), seems to care very little for them. 

During the Captain's dinner in the middle of a rapturous storm, many guests become seasick, with their oysters and caviar not sitting well in their stomachs. Östlund uses a lot of striking images throughout the film, but the one of a well-to-do madame slip-sliding across her washroom floor in her expensive undergarments and gaudy jewellery attempting to vomit in the toilet with some dignity tops them for me. 

After the storm has settled, the shell-shocked guests are in for another surprise, as a sudden catastrophe leaves only a small group of survivors stranded on a desert island. Within the group, only Abigail (Dolly de Leon), the ship's Toilet Manager, possesses any skills to survive in the elements. Soon, a shift in the social hierarchy occurs, with Abigail declaring herself the captain now.

Although she only appears in the second half, de Leon steals the movie from everyone once she appears. Having starred in over 30 stage productions in the Philippines, Triangle of Sadness is de Leon's international breakout role, and she takes advantage of every minute.

In a great ensemble film, every actor fills their character perfectly: Berlin's kowtowing to the rich, Dickinson as the fun but wildly insecure boyfriend, Zlatko Burić as a greasy Russian oligarch, and, of course, Harrelson as the unhinged Marxist captain. 

As the vapid but sweet Yaya, Dean has a striking presence on the screen, moving with the grace of a ballet dancer and delivering lines with a sharp tongue. Sadly, Dean passed away suddenly prior to the film's release at the age of 32 — something that lends a bittersweet note for audiences watching the film admiring a young actress on the rise. 

Östlund doesn't pull any punches in Triangle of Sadness. Whether through absurd dialogue, like an elderly British arms dealer discussing the perseverance him and his wife showed after landmines were prohibited by the UN, or the image of a wealthy gentleman calmly carrying on eating his oysters while a fellow guest vomits next to him, Östlund aims his lens at the ludicrous nature of the upper class with scathing effect. 

Triangle of Sadness is effectively two films in one, which explains its lengthy runtime of 149 minutes. However, Östlund paces the film out well, and there is a fine-tuned balance when shifting from one act to another. In comparison to another TIFF selection that takes aim at the rich, The Menu, Triangle of Sadness is decidedly more European and artistic in its mockery.
(Elevation Pictures)

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