Cast: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon
Director: Ruben Östlund
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
In the riotously no-holds-barred Triangle of Sadness, the two-time Palme d'Or-winning Swedish director Ruben Ostlund turns his provocative lens on money, gender codes, power and racism, not necessarily in that order, to lampoon the elite who have run the world to the ground with their unbridled profligacies.
In the line of fire here is a bunch of privileged people on a luxury yacht - a metaphor for a society adrift. One of the guests, a garrulous Russian businessman, proudly asserts that he sells "shit", fertilisers for agriculture. Another, an old, soft-spoken Briton, preens that the explosive devices he manufactures are aimed at upholding democracy around the world.
Triangle of Sadness, which has earned three Oscar nominations, is distributed in India Mumbai-based Impact Films. The film has opened across several Indian cities.
Triangle of Sadness, which takes well-directed swipes at an economic order that thrives on greed, war and exploitation, is a critique of the culture of ostentation that serves the interests of robber barons out to make the most of their proximity to people who control the levers of political power.
On the yacht on which one of the two-and-a-half-hour film's three segments plays out, those at the bottom of the pyramid, the cleaning staff, are barely visible until everybody is drowning in slime and vomit. It isn't easy watching Triangle of Sadness when it pulls out the stops and Ostlund is at his acerbic best.
A 250-million-dollar superyacht is piloted by an eccentric, hard-drinking American captain (Woody Harrelson) who quotes Marx, Lenin and Edward Abbey ("Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell"). His pronouncements on the state of the world are in direct response to the incitements of loquacious, woolly-headed Russian capitalist Dimitry (Zlatko Buric), who swears by the 'wisdom' of Reagan and Thatcher.
Early in the film, Carl (Harris Dickinson), a male model with a massive chip on his shoulder, has a raging argument with his supermodel-girlfriend Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean, who passed away aged 32 months after Triangle of Sadness won the Palme d'Or in Cannes last year) over the payment of a restaurant bill. It is not about the money, one of them says as the tiff drags on. Nothing could be further from the truth - it is about the money.
On the luxury yacht out at sea are some wealthy people. They are joined by social media influencers Yaya and Carl. The latter admits that their ride, thanks to who Yaya is, is a sponsored affair. But he quickly picks up the ways of the filthy rich. The ship has all the luxury that one can hope for, but the guests, whose sense of entitlement knows no bounds, make the most ridiculous of requests to the crew.
Ostlund repeatedly underlines that equality is only a word to be bandied about for effect. A fashion advert early in the film claims that everyone's equal. Carl seeks to end his tiff with Yaya with an airy "I want us to be equals". On the yacht, a guest just out of a swimming pool asserts to a liveried stewardess: "We are all equal, everyone's equal."
That they aren't is made absolutely clear from the very outset. A male model is asked why he wants to be in a profession in which men are paid one-third of what women receive. That bit of info sets the stage for the uneasy dynamics between Yaya and Carl that come to the fore in the bizarre but wholly understandable restaurant altercation that spills over into the ride back to the hotel.
A model coordinator briefs the aspiring male clotheshorses about how "smiley brand" H&M differs from "grumpy brand" Balenciaga. Models pushing the latter look down on the consumers, egalitarianism be damned. Since Triangle of Sadness bowed in Cannes, Balenciaga, once the hottest fashion brand in the world, has been rocked by controversy over the objectionable use of children in an advertising campaign. The maker of this film would have had no way of knowing what was coming, but the notes of caution that he strikes all through the film as the rich and reckless do as they wish now appear incredibly prophetic. The decadent guests on the boat hasten a tragedy that would have been dismissed as mere farce and perfect comeuppance had it not caused as much misery as it does.
Isn't fishing in ugly pools of misery that the wealthy thrive on? Where the yacht ends up sums up what the wealthy and the powerful have done to the world that we live in and hope to save and salvage no matter what. When all is lost and only a handful of people survive the ordeal to end up on a desolate island, the tables are completely turned.
The wealthy are now totally out of their depth. The only one among the stranded who possesses the skills to take care of herself is the "toilet manager" Abigail (Dolly de Leon). She proceeds to take control of the meagre resources at their disposal, from a lifeboat to a packet of pretzels.
Abigail can fish, make a fire, clean an octopus and cook, all of which are alien to Carl, Yaya, Dimitry, chief stewardess Paula (Vicki Berlin) who finds that her writ does not run on the island, a speech-impaired Therese (Iris Berben) who keeps intoning "In den Wolken" (meaning 'in the clouds' - a perfect summation of people whose feet are never on the ground), Jarmo Bjorkman (Henrik Dorsin), who makes pots of money by creating codes for apps; and a black engine-room boy Nelson (Jean-Christophe Folly), whom Dimitry unsurprisingly admits to never having noticed on board the yacht.
From where it begins - in a modelling agency's audition space - and all the way to where it ends - on an island where all goes topsy-turvy - Triangle of Sadness is a thoroughly entertaining, delightfully wicked fable about structures of power that are only one shipwreck away from going belly up. A perfect parable for an age of excess.