What if your social status suddenly no longer matters? In his new satire ‘Triangle of Sadness’, the Swedish director Ruben Östlund turns the balance of power between rich and poor upside down. Good for a second Golden Palm in Cannes.
“I like to compare myself to a little boy who pokes an ant nest with a stick to see how they will react,” Östlund said of himself eight years ago. That was in response to ‘Turist’, his masterful tragicomedy about a man who, on a skiing holiday, discovers – and his family with him – that he is not a hero at all. In the meantime, Östlund also added the acclaimed art satire ‘The Square’ to his oeuvre and he has already completed a new film with ‘Triangle of Sadness’. But he’s still that same naughty and curious little boy.
- ‘Triangle of Sadness’ is a new social satire by Swedish director Ruben Östlund after ‘Turist’ and ‘The Square’.
- The film follows a couple of young fashion models who receive an invitation for a very exclusive cruise with only wealthy passengers on board.
- The farce examines the power relations between rich and poor, and how relative they are.
- ‘Triangle of Sadness’ is often painfully witty, although he just as often misses the razor-sharp gaze from Östlund’s previous films.
- At the Cannes festival, Östlund received the Golden Palm, just like for ‘The Square’.
The Swedish filmmaker likes to be inspired by the human behavior he sees around him. Sometimes it concerns personal experiences, sometimes observations, and sometimes also scientific studies from which he draws certain insights. Östlund sees himself as a kind of sociologist, but with a weakness for moving images and a keen sense of humor.
With ‘Triangle of Sadness’ it all started in the fashion world. The title refers to a term from aesthetic surgery, the wrinkles between your eyebrows and the bridge of your nose. ‘I was interested in the idea that how we look largely determines our social contacts,’ explains Östlund. ‘Moreover, it can be a means of acquiring status. The question then is what a person does when he sees that beauty deteriorate.’
That concept is still part of the film, but as always, the project continued to evolve and grow over the years. Ultimately, it has become a more general narrative about the fickleness and relativity of social status. The central part takes place aboard a luxury cruise, where the crew bends over backwards to accommodate every whim of the wealthy (and petty) passengers. Until something completely turns that situation around.
With a subject such as class differences and social tensions, it is not illogical that ‘Triangle of Sadness’ is more politically explicit than Östlund’s previous films. He admits that without any problem. For example, the cruise ship captain (played by Woody Harrelson) is a convinced Marxist, an ideology the filmmaker knows all about.
“Those ideas were part of my upbringing,” he says. ‘My mother is still a communist. In our home, the table was often about political and social issues. The curious thing is that hardly anyone in Sweden knows that Marx was also a pioneer of sociology. Because we only know him as a founder of communism, he is a controversial figure. Which suits right-wing politicians very well.’
Östlund himself has a nuanced view of Marxist ideas. “From a materialistic standpoint, it seems clear to me that our behavior is highly dependent on the financial and social structures in which we live,” he says. “No one can deny that. Marx put his finger on that. I just don’t agree with his utopian view that a communist society would automatically be stable and free from corruption. For me, a fair and equal society is a struggle that is never over.’
I want to make entertaining films that spark an intellectual and engaging discussion.
That explains why Östlund does not point the finger at anyone in his films. His characters are all molded by the context in which they live. Yet in ‘Triangle of Sadness’ he strays further from recognizable characters than you would like. Sometimes he throws a scene so sharp it’ll curl your toes – the restaurant bill situation is a gem – but often the film seems more like a loose grab bag of vague ideas.
It was therefore a surprise that the jury at the Cannes festival found him strong enough for a Golden Palm (Ostlund’s second after ‘The Square’). It will be Östlund worst. As he puts it: ‘I want to make entertaining films that spark an intellectual and engaging discussion.’ ‘Triangle of Sadness’ certainly does that.
‘Triangle of Sadness’ is in cinemas starting this week.