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TIFF 2022 Review: Laugh at the Demise of the Rich in Ruben Östlund's 'Triangle of Sadness'

By Lindsay Traves | Film | September 16, 2022 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | September 16, 2022 |


Eat the rich! Or maybe don’t because if they weren’t cooked quickly enough, they might upset your gut. That’s the essential core of Triangle of Sadness, a revolting and hilarious tale of privilege and disaster. On the heels of shows like The White Lotus and even Succession comes this newest social satire that takes a shot at lampooning the vapidity of wealth.

Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson) are the portraits of new money internet cash flow. They’re models and influencers of varying success who argue over bill etiquette, who makes more money, and whether it matters. The photogenic pair are gifted a free trip aboard a luxury yacht where they join the wealthy elite, like a Russian fertilizer kingpin and an arms manufacturer, on the open seas. Their gorgeous vacation, full of photo ops and champagne, is interrupted by some seasickness, food poisoning, and pirates. What was once a showcase of immense affluence is turned into a conversation about wealth distribution and then into a grotesque wreck.

Writer and director Ruben Östlund’s projects often focus on the vapidity of affluence and fragility of relationships, tackling the art world with The Square and a marriage in the French alps with Force Majeure. For his latest, he is tackling a simple idea, wealth inequality and the social structure that allows for it. There’s an easy-to-grasp throughline in the entire affair, the story’s cards always clearly on the table.

First, we follow Carl at a fashion show for the uber elite where he is shuffled from his seat to make space for someone more important while “everyone is equal” glows on LED screens behind a stage of models in expensive clothing. The bulk of the second “part” on the boat follows the eccentric rich Russian (Zlatko Buric) and the captain (Woody Harrelson) discussing capitalism and socialism over expensive drinks. It’s not just the incompatibility of the two ideologies that the film is laughing at, but also that it’s being discussed by two successful white men on a two-hundred- and fifty-million-dollar luxury yacht.

Östlund spends time tearing to shreds the hilarity of what happens when the rich coopt progressivism. While he sometimes seems to be lost in his own themes, Östlund is absolutely aware of the absurdity of his contentions, proving so in the third part. In the final exploration of this theme, he maroons his characters on an island where the social order is flipped on its head. Here, he starts society at zero and then posits how power can corrupt anyone, this time watching a matriarchy form. The two-and-a-half-hour story makes one point and makes it hard, which — for better or for worse — sets it apart from its cohorts. While the humor never wavers, and each part has something to say, it’s difficult to remain fully engaged while the single theme is stretched among three settings. By the time the third title card flashes onscreen, the premise has already been exhausted. I wish it had shown some editing restraint earlier on because the third part is so sharp that it’s a shame that by the time it arrives, you might be half out of it, begging for the credits to roll.

While it could have benefited from an edit for time, the editing of the conversations is brilliant. In moments of tension, the camera lingers on the reactors’ faces instead of the speakers, which adds a new vision and dry comedy to the discussions. It also lets actors like Dickinson shine, their gazes and subtle expressions telling more of a story than the person delivering dialogue. It’s these subtle moves and sensibilities that bolster the humor. The jokes are cracklingly dry while sandwiched between toilet gags that make for a rip-roaring experience. Östlund’s work sits comfortably beside the work of Armando Iannucci in its ability to blend sharp and dry wit with over-the-top vulgarity.

Triangle of Sadness is a lot of fun if you want to spend an afternoon laughing at the demise of some rich people. The story might test your limits and have you beg for intermission, but it’s a riotous portrayal of the fortunate having an unfortunate experience that has them all puke up their expensive dinner then discuss whose turn it is to eat.

Triangle of Sadness premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and hits theaters September 28, 2022.