BFI LFF 2022: Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness, Ruben Ôstland’s second Palme d’or winner, is an uncompromising blackly contemporary satire.

If 6 were 9

by Alexa Dalby

Triangle of Sadness

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In Triangle of Sadness, Ruben Ôstland’s second satirical blackly comic Palme d’or win after The Square, a luxury cruise ship is a microcosm of our unequal society. Perhaps more contemporary might have been one of the gigantic private super-yachts (gin palaces that are almost the same size).

The film is divided into three sections, each focusing on some of Ôstland’s many targets. First, we see a horrendous casting session, then two models/influencers (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean), argue about who picks up the bill in a restaurant, breaking out of gender roles, male/female equality, relative power and their different incomes.

Next, we see the self-obsessed couple on a freebie cruise aboard the luxurious cruise ship, where the crew are instructed to say yes to any request and a trivial complaint against a worker can lead to their sudden dismissal. The captain (Woody Harrelson) is permanently drunk and refusing to leave his cabin or take any decisions.

The unpleasant, super-rich, insensitive-to-those-who-wait-on-them passengers also include a vulgar Russian oligarch (Zlatko Buric) and his family, a boring Swedish IT millionaire and an elderly English arms-dealing couple significantly named Clementine and Winston. The oligarch’s wife drunkenly insists that the crew and below-decks workers leave their duties and take a compulsory (reluctant) waterslide into the sea, imposed on them as extra forced enjoyment, a boorishly unsuccessful attempt to create a pretence of equality between passengers and crew despite glaring the inequality.

The mid point of the film comes with the high social event of the captain’s dinner taking place amid rough seas, which combined with a too-rich, gourmet meal result in uncontrollable vomiting among the guests and the toilets backing up and flooding the ship with rivers of shit. Symbolic or what? Then the terrorists attack…

In the third section, a few survivors of the shipwreck find themselves marooned on what they think is a deserted island. Abigail (Dolly de Leon), who was the toilet cleaner on board ship, is the only one of the effete and selfish group who has the practical skills needed to catch fish, light a fire and cook it, so she takes control and the social order is upturned. There are echoes of “I am the captain now” from Captain Phillips. It’s like a mixture of The Admirable Crichton and Lord of the Flies and, depending on your cultural references, Gilligan’s Island.

Triangle of Sadness is a long film that takes aim at just about everything that Ôstland sees as wrong in contemporary society. And there’s a lot wrong. The central section bats aphorisms of capitalism and communism (Marxism) backwards and forwards between the captain and the oligarch. There is so much that’s tawdry for Ôstland to take aim at, and he does, with no mistaking. His satirical viewpoint is harsh, blatant and pessimistic. Can real change ever be made or is it illusory until things revert to the norm? It’s up to you. Triangle of Sadness is in your face. I really enjoyed it and I hope you do too.

Triangle of Sadness premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’or, screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 28 October 2022 in the UK.

Join the discussion