Triangle of Sadness (or a vlog on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean) by Östlund

What happens when a luxurious yacht in the middle of a cruise sinks, and the group of ultra-rich people on board, shipwrecked on a deserted island, needs to fight for their survival? “Triangle of Sadness,” the latest movie by Swedish director Ruben Östlund, tries to give us an answer—without going too deep, I would add.  


By Lorenzo Polverari / Matthew staff | | Edited by Gioia Kunst

Film poster via IMDb.

With his 2022 film, Östlund scores a second Palme d’Or win in a row at Cannes, after his 2017 film, The Square. Not every director is blessed with two consecutive wins, so you can imagine the curiosity boiling in me before watching his latest fatigue. 

The story, elegantly divided into three chapters as every respectable Mittel European film would do, starts with the adventures of a young couple: a model (Harris Dickinson) and an influencer (Charlbi Dean), whose semi-conjugal crisis lingers behind a 30-minute-long argument about the equal division of the bill and postfeminist notions.  

Following, the second part of the film shows the couple being thrown onto an opulent cruise aboard a superyacht, which is none other than the Christina O, once owned by Aristotle Onassis. Later, we find out that the two have been invited for their beauty and fame and, of course, in exchange for social media promotion. Agreed: being pretty has never been so relevant before.  

Here, the camera zooms out to welcome new odd characters like a Renoir painting or a panoramic view of the characters of the Balzacian Comédie Humaine. Between baths in the sun and small blowouts of jealousy, everything seems to work regularly until Vera, the wife of Russian oligarch Dimitrij, either because of senility or inebriated by the booze, requests the whole crew to take a deserved break and demands them to take a dip in the sea. This silly theater of Brechtian masks reminded me of the class criticism in Genet’s works – the idiotic aristocrats and the clever servants – which, in my opinion, represents the highest peak of the movie. Later, during a violent storm, we witness the captain’s dinner going to sh*t – quite literally – as the guests become violently seasick possibly due to the food, and panic breaks out.  

Meanwhile, the ship sinks, orchestrated by the back-and-forth of an ideological duel between the captain, a disenchanted Marxist Harrelson, and Dimitrij the Russian oligarch, a liberal-Atlanticist who venerates Churchill—the American communist and the Russian capitalist. A funny joke, if the film was released forty years ago.  

The third and last chapter transports us to an “apparently” deserted island, where the few survivors depend on Abigail (Dolly De Leon), one of the cleaning women on the ship, who is the only one able to start a fire and hunt. I am not going to mention the finale as I did not find it interesting nor relevant; instead, it was a wrinkly result of one of those creative writing directions about the importance of an open, and confused, ending: in simpler terms, meaningless. Unfortunately, the movie starts with a witty, dark – almost British – sense of humor that eventually turns into an embarrassing patchwork of vulgarities worthy of the “American Pie” saga and, finally, falls into a parody of those reality shows that put to test a celebrity couple’s fidelity by leaving them fornicating on a remote Caribbean Island.  

Ultimately, “Triangle of Sadness” looks like a trailer of a movie that you always remind yourself to watch but you eventually never will because, deep down, your instinct has way better taste than the jury at Cannes. Every element that could be cutting, smooths, and what could be funny is boring and sometimes bothersome. I’d be lying if I said that I did not leave the theatre with a bitter taste in my mouth … and no, it was not because of the infamous shipwreck scene – who’s seen the movie will understand.  

It is a shame, because a lot could have been done with the imagery of the romantic capitalist drift. This movie, instead, looks like a synopsis of “what could have been” but never was. It is not just because of the predictability of the entire plot; hence, it is rather because of the ambitious entitlement to make the audience laugh. But what audience? Östlund wrote this movie for a sole reason: this long philo-ethic exam is just a divertissement for all those cinephile bourgeois intellectuals who need to make fun of others to remind themselves how smart they are. If that wasn’t the case, then my guess is that Östlund has been on too many cruise ships in the past few years. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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