New York Film Festival: Triangle of Sadness (2022)
Ruben Östlund made huge waves at Cannes with this film, even winning the Palm d’Or; but even before it’s French premiere, I marked it as an honorable mention in my ’10 to Watch in 2022’ list. Since then, it’s sadly become the swansong of actress Charlbi Dean, who passed away earlier this year; but what a legacy she’s left behind with this movie. Following a motley group of privileged opportunists on a luxury yacht, Triangle of Sadness is a searing satire of class, gender and race—and it couldn’t be timelier.
From the very opening shot, Östlund’s interest in human relationships is front-and-center. There’s a lot of focus on dialogue in this movie, and through their words we get a great sense of each character: their interests, desires, priorities etc. It’s pretty remarkable that this was accomplished without the scenes feeling too long or clunky. Instead, the characters’ interactions feel organic, genuine, and are as hilarious as the trailer; I’m thinking in particular of a scene towards the film’s beginning when a couple, Carl and Yaya, begin to argue about money since Yaya never pays for dinner despite being the top-earner. Embodied through the magnificent performances given by Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean, these two characters were my favorites to watch throughout the film’s runtime; but I’d be remiss without acknowledging the awesome work of the cast overall.
Dolly de Leon’s Abigail and Zaltko Burić’s Dimitry are particularly fun. There’s also a Woody Harrelson appearance as Captain Smith that, while it may not be given as much screen time as de Leon or Burić’s characters, is nonetheless central to the heart of this film. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Marx directly quoted more in a film than by Captain Smith—especially when arguing with Dimitry, who’s the kind of Russian oligarch we saw rise to power after the Soviet Union’s fall. That being said, the whole time I kept asking myself: is this a revolutionary movie?
Initially, I was inclined to say yes. Very inclined! But I think Östlund’s script is so committed to the satire that, towards the middle of the third act, it all starts to get a little muddied together, and by the time credits roll it’s hard to categorize this movie as anything but nihilistic. Once a pirate attack leaves only a handful of survivors stranded on a beach, and Abigail—once a toilet manager—takes charge as the only one with the ability to fish, build a fire and cook, we see the same patterns of hierarchy as before being recreated, this time with a nonwhite woman at the helm.
There’s definitely something to be said about how this can itself be seen as a commentary on the necessity of a class-based framing, otherwise we run the risk of simply becoming the new oppressors post-revolution; but I think it could’ve been a bit more cohesive. Mikel Cee Karlsson’s editing could and should have cut a few shots sooner than he did. While there are some scenes that benefited from letting audiences sit in the moment (like when a fancy dinner with the captain is ruined by seasickness and an intense storm), I feel it could’ve been tighter and more efficient overall. Despite these issues, Triangle of Sadness is a romping comedy full of laughs and sharp critique that’s both compelling and entertaining. Catch it in theaters while you can!
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