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Triangle Of Sadness (BFI London Film Festival 2022)

4 min read

Much like its predecessor, The Square, Triangle Of Sadness is a satirical piece that takes aim at the elites of this world. This time the focus moves beyond the art industry and centres on two models, Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson), as well as a host of unsavoury customers who embark on an ill-fated, hierarchy-shifting boat cruise. 

Östlund has an ability to sculpt his narratives around unlikeable characters, and things are no different here. Carl and Yaya are pretentious and self-involved. The same can be said of the supporting cast; toilet manager Abigail (Dolly De Leon), The Captain () and manure magnate Dimitry (Zlatko Buric) who are all flawed in their own way. The personalities on display are diverse. Östlund abstains from giving English full primacy and instead deploys a plethora of languages throughout. Though many films strive to achieve diversity, few recent releases can claim to do so as naturally and effectively as this one. Additionally, the presence of a Hollywood A-lister such as Woody Harrelson doesn't detract from the ensemble, and every main character gets a moment to shine. 

The acting is solid across the board. The great Zlatko Buric serves up a brilliant comedic performance as Dimitry in a role reminiscent of his fine work in the Pusher trilogy. Harrelson's welcome cameo as a drunken ship captain finds him entertainingly debating marxism and capitalism whilst his ship goes off the rails. Most surprisingly, De Leon's Abigail takes on an important role following the shipwreck, which she plays with the perfect balance of wit and seriousness. The late Charlbi Dean is also fantastic in her feature film debut: it is a tragedy that such a promising career can no longer come to full fruition.

takes quite some time to become dramatically engaging, but there are some brilliant comedic set-pieces throughout. Carl and Yaya's argument over the bill is well observed. The opening sequence offers a chuckle-inducing look behind the scenes of a fashion shoot. The island-set finale has some truly odd comedic moments involving Abigail and the rest of the passengers. Most memorably, the film's mid-point serves up a nauseatingly funny vomit scene where the cruise's customers refuse to stop consuming even as the boat rocks violently, hurling food and people from side to side. These sequences contain an infectious entertainment value which was largely missing from .

As he does with his casting and characterisations, Östlund takes a varied approach to the subject matter he satirises. He skewers everything from fashion to marxism as well as rich people, men and women. Though at times this hurts the overall story it certainly adds to the humour whilst demonstrating Östlund's ability to see the world in a multi-faceted way. The starts to genuinely impact the narrative during the island-set third act, which is by far the strongest portion of the film. The main players's fates all go in admirably stange directions and the climax is genuinely surprising.

Still, this variety of commentary makes Triangle tonally jumbled. It shifts wildly between comedy and drama, which renders it jarring and ultimately lacking in both domains. The humour often enters slapstick and gross-out territory yet is depicted through a sophisticated visual style. On the one hand this is fitting: Triangle Of Sadness aims to expose the inner ugliness of the outwardly sophisticated ruling class. On the other, the painterly and rehearsed nature of the camerawork somewhat hurts the spontaneity that comedy tends to require. 

Much of the satire is funny and insightful, but it seems to exist to promote Östlund's observations rather than to build a satisfying narrative. The first bill-paying exchange is funny. Then it keeps going. And then the next two scenes are also about the same issue. The vomiting sequence is glorious, but it takes up a sizeable chunk of the film. The plot stagnates during multiple extended sequences that focus on the momentary message at hand rather than moving the story along. The narrative only gets going once the cruise starts, and even then the scenes don't seem to connect to each other. Though the story really finds its feet in the final act, it comes a little too late after nearly two hours of largely inconsequential set-up. There is something frustrating about this climax being so much more dramatically engaging than the first two chapters; right when the character dynamics come to a head, the film simply…stops.

Ruben Östlund continues to do interesting things in the comedy genre, and Triangle Of Sadness is certainly a lot of fun. It doesn't quite come together, but with a more cohesive story and some ruthless editing his next satirical serving could be the one that brings it all together.

Triangle of Sadness will be screened at  BFI London Film Festival 2022 and be released in UK cinemas on October 28th