Years ago, I came across an inaccurate description of the plot-to-be of a future Ruben Östlund film. “A disgruntled yacht captain deliberately sabotages his luxury vessel to teach his wealthy clientele a lesson,” or something like that. My initial thought was, that sounds on the nose, but, knowing Östlund’s previous work (Force Majeure, The Square), he’ll handle it in an interesting way. It was an exciting prospect.
A few years later, I saw the trailer for the film, titled Triangle of Sadness. The jokes fell flat. I forced a laugh. I thought, well, it’s probably hard to convey slow-build Scandinavian humor in a trailer cut for Apatow-reared Americans.
A few weeks later, I watched the film. Why it was so heavily awarded at Cannes, I do not know. While there are some interesting set pieces, they work only as set-ups and aren’t followed through. Consider the first act, wherein our moderately likable central characters start to bicker over a bill. The boyfriend finds it off-putting that he’s always expected to pay even though Yaya makes more money than him and because she said she would pay. He’s upset with the implicit gender dynamic in this arrangement and wants them to be equal. Yaya sees it as a mode for survival, knowing that her career will end, she’ll have to rely on a mate to provide for her. It’s a test. Ultimately, he feels bad for bringing up the bill in the first place. He capitulates, clearly not wanting to lose her. This could easily be a deleted scene on the Force Majeure DVD.
It’s an interesting build to some larger critique of the old vs. the new, regarding equality, survival, expectation, practicality, etc. Then we get a hard cut to the next act, where we see the couple on a yacht. I expected, in keeping with boyfriend’s prior capitulation, that he got them a yacht trip as an apology. It would make sense. A cab driver who heard their fight even encouraged him to “fight for her,” so perhaps boyfriend followed the advice? No such luck. Yaya, we learn much later, got the cruise as a perk of being an influencer. An influencer? The most salient critique we get of this oft-mocked profession comes from lingering shots of Yaya’s selfie-taking. And boyfriend taking pictures of her mimicking eating. She doesn’t actually eat the food. It’s all about the image! It’s vapid! Get it?
We meet an elderly British couple who politely discuss the family business of weapons manufacturing over dinner. Later, they are blown up by one of their own products. Get it??
In an unlikely turn of events, (in every sense of the word, there’s no consistent writing to make any of these situations likely), a lowly cleaning lady becomes the only competent person, while the rich (and someone from the engine room, why he’s there is unknown, his presence does nothing to sharpen the metaphor. Perhaps he’s there to toy with the idea of subtlety? It’s not clear) are useless and have to follow her orders. This occurs immediately after the Marxist boat captain reads Marx and Chomsky over the loudspeaker. It’s role reversal! Workers seizing the means of production! Get it???
The rich throw up their golden food! Get it????
If you fancy a coherent ham-fisted leftist film, try something mid-career Ken Loach, or the second half of Parasite. Or for island fun, try Gilligan’s Island, it doesn’t think so highly of itself.
We go from tightly-focused character piece to ambitious and obvious boat set piece to irrelevant and sprawling island act without gleaning much of anything. Instagram/modeling is vapid. The rich are evil or something. Working people know how to survive. Sure. Eh. Stylistically, Östlund seems to want to say more. Unfortunately, the big budget set the clock to amateur hour.