When a film wins the Palme d’Or, the expectations become clear. Realistically, it could be the first steppingstone towards a best picture race. More recently, being awarded Cannes’ feature prize has meant praise for the cutting edge, arthouse style that both shocks and befuddles an audience going in without any prior warning of the film’s performance. For context, the last few Palme d’Or winners are Titane and Parasite, so that is quite a high bar. These two films alone serve as an example for the duality for Cannes’ most prestigious festival award. In 2022, the film went to Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness – a not-so-nuanced satire poking at class divide that tries to fit into both of the aforementioned buckets.
On one hand, Triangle of Sadness contributes the same darkly humor that previous winners were praised for. Unfortunately, though, the film doesn’t offer nearly the same palette of commentary and lasting power.
Perhaps these expectations are what makes Östlund’s latest such a confusing and strikingly uneven watch. It offers the same intellectual food-for-thought as its mainstream counterparts (ironic that this film hits VOD relatively close to The Menu hitting theaters given both of their absurdist takes on elitist culture) but in a package rather unfulfilling by its third act.
The film starts strong and quite heavy-handed as a pair of social media influencers, masquerading as a happy couple, begin pointing fingers over a bill at a prestigious restaurant. Within this opening sequence, Östlund sets the table for every course this film is planning to present. The two leads in Triangle of Sadness are Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean (who tragically passed not too long after this film’s premiere at Cannes). Both fit quite nicely with the narrative arch the script sets up – even if both tend to float in and out of the script as a large supporting cast dominates the latter half of the film.
The film’s third leading performance, which you soon find out isn’t really a leading performance and surely wouldn’t even constitute enough screentime for a supporting nod at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony, is the delightful and quite drunk Woody Harrelson. His scenes stick out as some of the film’s best, but when the third chapter rolls around, you start to notice your own stomach growling as the film struggles to ground itself in an otherwise outlandish set of circumstances.
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And by outlandish, I mean outlandishly gross. Triangle of Sadness, if for nothing else, has perhaps the grossest and crassest set of scenes that you will lay your eyes on this year. Östlund loves to make his actors, and audience members, squirm and readjust as much as possible. As the film begins to turn towards a third act set on a deserted island, the “gross-out” factor that deservedly helped market this film to a wider audience, or turn off that same wider audience (depending how you want to examine its middling box office performance), is nowhere to be seen. And when this flip happens, the film dies on a sword it never should have come in contact with.
Triangle of Sadness has a finely constructed first 90 minutes. Its unobtrusive camera shots, dry-as-hell line delivery, and wicked set or principles are enough to chew on. But the flickering light it has meticulously set up soon burns out with the ship it’s resting on. Satire needs to be one of two things – sharp or nuanced. The best satires are both. Triangle of Sadness fails in being either at a successful pace. To say it’s ambitious is an understatement, but to say that it successfully uses up every minute of its 2 hour, 20 minute runtime would be an overstatement.
Although it’s visually pleasing and pretty refreshing at its peak moments, Triangle of Sadness doesn’t come together as tight as it should. For many filmmakers, winning a Palme d’Or would be a reason to stay the course for the foreseeable future, but Ruben Östlund keeps audiences guessing. He didn’t hit a home run here, but I can surely admire the effort and vision that he is trying to complete. It probably won’t compete for many awards this upcoming season, but I imagine Östlund will be back for a vengeance.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Where to watch Triangle of Sadness: Hulu, VOD
Triangle of Sadness Cast and Credits
Harris Dickinson as Carl
Charlbi Dean as Yaya
Woody Harrelson as Thomas, The Captain
Zlatko Burić as Dimitry
Vicki Berlin as Paula
Dolly de Leon as Abigail
Director: Ruben Östlund
Writer: Ruben Östlund
Cinematography: Fredrik Wenzel
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Triangle of Sadness movie on IMDb