Cannes Film Festival – Deadline
The holder triangle of sadness in the current Palme d’Or winner Ruben Ostlund’s competition at Cannes, we’re told it’s the small space between the eyebrows and the bridge of the nose where nasty, aging lines register a buildup of emotion troublesome that, frankly, doesn’t sell a suit on the catwalk. “Do you think he needs Botox?” a model casting agent mutters as Carl (Harris Dickinson) – who, being on the wrong side of 20, should be worried – struts around. He will soon find himself at a fashion show where a huge neon screen announces “Everyone is equal!” This is nonsense, of course. Carl can’t even find a seat.
This dismantling of the fashion business serves as a preface to triangle of sadness. It ends in an argument between Carl and his girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) – also a model – over who pays for dinner. Yaya earns much more than him, but expects him to collect the check. “What if I got pregnant and couldn’t work?” she reasons when he protests that he wants an equal relationship. “I need to know that the person I’m with is going to take care of me.” But that, as she will discover in the next few chapters, is never a reliable assumption.
triangle of sadness is a mission statement on equality: that it does not exist, that it cannot exist, that although calamity may bring down the best dogs, new curates will replace them and behave exactly the way same way. Palm of Ostlund The place was certainly hard on its characters; a sharp satire of the art world, he scratched at the contradictions between the good left-wing pieties of the cultural establishment and its reliance on unsavory capitalism for funds. It told us that these people – people like us, people like Ostlund – weren’t as decent as they thought, as a series of ironic twists illustrate. You had to smile.
There are no such contradictions in triangle of sadness. It is located on a luxury yacht sailing in a sunny location. It is undoubtedly a business of pampering the very wealthy, supported by the rigid hierarchy of life on board. At the top of the pile, of course, are customers who can afford to demand whatever they want. There is a British couple who made their money from landmines, a drunken Russian oligarch traveling with his wife and mistress who made their money from cornering the fertilizer trade in Eastern Europe; and a Swedish code writer who got lucky writing code for games. Carl and Yaya, having survived their tiff on the restaurant bill, are probably the poorest passengers on board; Yaya is a major influencer and they are browsing for free.
The next level in the food chain is the crew. Chief steward Paula (Vicki Berlin, in a light-hearted performance) lectures at high speed to her young, bright, white staff, telling them to keep smiling and always say yes. Paula effectively runs the show while the captain (Woody Harrelson) refuses to leave his cabin, where he listens to the Red Army choir sing the international and self-medication. When it finally emerges, it is leaning like the Tower of Pisa. He hasn’t forgotten his Lenin, however, who comes in handy in a friendly name-calling match with the Fertilizer King.
Then there are the people below decks, who keep the boat going and craft meals that come back up to the dining room. They are all brown. When a storm rolls in and guests begin a volley of criss-crossing projectile vomit — a disgusting comedic scene that makes everything in Judd Apatow’s wallet seem pristine — the dark people clean that up, too. And while they can’t do much when the pirates attack and the yacht sinks, the few survivors whose life rafts make it to a beach – which includes our handsome models, as well as the oligarch and billionaire coding – find themselves completely dependent on one of these anonymous brown people. She knows how to fish, make fire, find edible plants and survive. She becomes a leader, so now she can have what she wants. Anything she wants.
To run aground on a desert island: this is one of the founding myths of Western literature. It can be about finding happiness (The Odyssey), displaying stoic courage (Robinson Crusoe), how vile people really are once they are no longer constrained by the rules (lord of the flies) or how even a volleyball can be a friend (Castaway). For Ostlund, the beach where her survivors wash up is a fishbowl where betrayals and selfishness, the real stuff of life, can be seen for what they are. I suspect Ostlund thinks that would be more fun instead. As is, triangle of sadness is bitter, smart and absolutely on the money.