‘TRIANGLE of Sadness’ is the first English language film of Swedish writer-director Ruben Ostlund. It won the Palme D’Or or the best film prize at the last Cannes Filmfest. In 2017, his film “The Square” with Claes Bang, a satire about the art world, also won the same honor and it’s adored by Western critics.
We’ve seen it and we honestly think it’s overrated. The first film of Ostlund noticed by Hollywood is “Force Majeure”, which was even remade in Hollywood as “Downhill” starring Will Ferrell, but we haven’t seen both.
“Triangle of Sadness” refers to that part of the face above the nose and eyebrows that we use when we frown or make “kunot-noo”. It is mentioned in the film’s opening scene where Carl (Harris Dickinson, “The King’s Man”) is shown in an audition for male models where they are told that cheap brands like H&M are ‘smiley’ while high couture is ‘grumpy’.
For cheaper products, you smile to project an illusion of happiness when you wear them. For the expensive brands, you must look aloof, expensive like the clothes they’re selling. This must all register in your triangle of sadness.
This review contains spoilers so it’s intended more for those who’ve already seen it. If you plan to watch it, then stop reading. The movie is divided into three different acts. The first one is “Carl & Yaya” and it concerns Carl and his girlfriend, Yaya (Charlbi Dean, and this is really sad, as Charlbi, who’s so lovely and quite talented, died last August due to an infection.)
Carl and Yaya are seated on the front row of a fashion show but were ejected to give way to VIPs who arrived late. Between them, it’s Yaya who is earning more and has a larger following as an influencer. In a restaurant, they argue about money and about gender expectations.
In the second part, “The Yacht”, Carl and Yaya are invited to join a luxury cruise ship with very rich passengers for free, so they can promote it in social media. Carl is annoyed when Yaya gets so friendly with a macho crew man so he complains to the chief steward, Paula (Vicki Berlin), who quickly fired the crew member. But when a rich man (who became so wealthy due to success in software) flirts with Yaya, he doesn’t complain at all.
A waitress, Alicia (Alicia Erikson), feels so uncomfortable when Vera (Sunyi Melles), the wife of a Russian tycoon who got rich with fertilizer he calls shit, Dimitry (Zlatco Buric), demands that she and all the other crew members (with many Pinoys speaking in Tagalog) join her in swimming. This becomes a veritable “Ship of Fools”, a 1965 film by Stanley Kramer starring Vivien Leigh and Simone Signoret as doomed passengers in an ocean liner.
The yacht’s captain, Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson), is a drunkard and won’t come out of his cabin. When he’s finally persuaded to host the Captain’s Dinner, it so happened that the weather has turned so bad.
With the ship being tossed by huge waves, most of passengers get seasick and start throwing up. Yucky fecal matter from the overflowing toilets also start floating around. Electrical power also goes out, but this does not stop the American Captain Thomas and the Russian Dmitry in debating about Marxism and capitalism.
Just then, Somali pirates come aboard, tossing a grenade into the ship’s deck. Its explosion makes the ship sink into its own Bermuda triangle (of sadness) and kills the elderly arms-dealing couple who got rich manufacturing those very grenades.
We then come to the third part, “The Island”, with the yacht’s survivors marooned in an island, including Carl and Yaya. Most of them do not have any survival skills and it is only the toilet cleaner, Abigail (our very own Dolly de Leon), who knows how to make a fire and find food for everyone.
Soon, she becomes the commander of the lifeboat from the ship that is washed ashore and contains some supplies. The idea of the plight of survivors stranded on a deserted island has been done before by William Golding in his novel “Lord of the Flies” (which has been filmed twice and even has a 1975 local version, “Alkitrang Dugo” by Lupita Concio) and by Italian director, Lina Wertmuller, in “Swept Away” (1974, which we saw at the old Ever Theatre on Rizal Ave.)
The rich people here portray various stereotypes stripped of their class privileges. It’s Carl who is the innocent guest who strays in and he somehow gets some of our sympathy. But it is Dolly de Leon who is easily the scene-stealer as she ruthlessly transforms Abigail into a fiercely feministic, no nonsense leader. She takes command and demands to be called the captain.
She gains more power and proves to be a cougar who wants to taste hunky Caucasian meat, so she makes Carl her toy boy, giving him food and making Yaya so jealous. Yaya walks to the other side of the island and Abigail goes with her.
They discover that there is a luxury resort on the other side of the island the whole time. Abigail realizes that this discovery will revert her back to being a lowly toilet cleaner, so she has to take steps to prevent this.
This is one of those artsy films that has no sure ending. We last see Abigail about to crush Yaya’s head with a big rock but we don’t know if she succeeded. The last shot shows Carl running furiously through the bush and we don’t even know why.
The film is obviously intended to be a very dark comedy about class warfare satirizing the very rich. Its message is summarized by Captain Thomas in his line to the Russian magnate: “While you’re swimming in abundance, the rest of the world is drowning in misery.”
The film runs for two and a half hours and we cannot understand why. What it’s trying to say about its shallow protagonists can be conveyed in less than two hours by a more astute director. Some scenes here just go on and on unnecessarily and can be tedious.
The movie is now being shown in local theaters but we think it will cater to a limited market. Only film enthusiasts will be interested so that they can see for themselves Dolly de Leon’s acclaimed portrayal of Abigail. We feel that this feel-bad movie showing the unsavory aspects of the human race will sit well with local audiences who prefer escapist entertainment. If you want a more amusing show about castaways, then just watch the “Survivor” TV series which has been going on for years and years.