‘Triangle of Sadness’ turns social hierarchy upside down

What if your social status suddenly no longer matters? In his new satire’Triangle of Sadness’, the Swedish director Ruben Östlund turns the balance ofpower between rich and poor upside down. Good for a second Golden Palm inCannes.

“I like to compare myself to a little boy who pokes an ant nest with a stickto see how they will react,” Östlund said of himself eight years ago. That wasin response to ‘Turist’, his masterful tragicomedy about a man who, on askiing holiday, discovers – and his family with him – that he is not a hero atall. 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 ofSadness’. But he’s still that same naughty and curious little boy.

The essence

  • ‘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 seesaround him. Sometimes it concerns personal experiences, sometimesobservations, and sometimes also scientific studies from which he drawscertain insights. Östlund sees himself as a kind of sociologist, but with aweakness for moving images and a keen sense of humor.

Luxury Cruise

With ‘Triangle of Sadness’ it all started in the fashion world. The titlerefers to a term from aesthetic surgery, the wrinkles between your eyebrowsand the bridge of your nose. ‘I was interested in the idea that how we looklargely determines our social contacts,’ explains Östlund. ‘Moreover, it canbe a means of acquiring status. The question then is what a person does whenhe sees that beauty deteriorate.’

That concept is still part of the film, but as always, the project continuedto evolve and grow over the years. Ultimately, it has become a more generalnarrative about the fickleness and relativity of social status. The centralpart takes place aboard a luxury cruise, where the crew bends over backwardsto accommodate every whim of the wealthy (and petty) passengers. Untilsomething completely turns that situation around.

With a subject such as class differences and social tensions, it is notillogical that ‘Triangle of Sadness’ is more politically explicit thanÖstlund’s previous films. He admits that without any problem. For example, thecruise ship captain (played by Woody Harrelson) is a convinced Marxist, anideology the filmmaker knows all about.

“Those ideas were part of my upbringing,” he says. ‘My mother is still acommunist. 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 apioneer of sociology. Because we only know him as a founder of communism, heis a controversial figure. Which suits right-wing politicians very well.’

grab bag

Östlund himself has a nuanced view of Marxist ideas. “From a materialisticstandpoint, it seems clear to me that our behavior is highly dependent on thefinancial and social structures in which we live,” he says. “No one can denythat. Marx put his finger on that. I just don’t agree with his utopian viewthat a communist society would automatically be stable and free fromcorruption. For me, a fair and equal society is a struggle that is neverover.’

I want to make entertaining films that spark an intellectual and engagingdiscussion. “

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 youwould like. Sometimes he throws a scene so sharp it’ll curl your toes – therestaurant bill situation is a gem – but often the film seems more like aloose grab bag of vague ideas.

It was therefore a surprise that the jury at the Cannes festival found himstrong enough for a Golden Palm (Ostlund’s second after ‘The Square’). It willbe Östlund worst. As he puts it: ‘I want to make entertaining films that sparkan intellectual and engaging discussion.’ ‘Triangle of Sadness’ certainly does