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Triangle of Sadness ★★★

Availability: Showing in theaters in major cities; available for rent or purchase on many platforms, including AppleTV, Amazon, Google Play; see JustWatch here.


We Are All Models


It’s unusual for a film to get right to the point, but this one does, introducing its enigmatic title just minutes into the production, in a scene that precedes the 3 formal sections that comprise the comedic drama. We’ve been witness to a call session for a group of male models, as they’re instructed to act out moods that would be relevant to the economy clothier H&M, on the one hand (optimism, smiles), and upscale Balenciaga on the other (cynicism, boredom). Carl (Harris Dickinson) is singled out for a more personalized call-back. “Can you relax your triangle of sadness,” he’s asked, referring to indentations of concern that line his forehead.


The experience for Carl (center, Harris Dickinson) and the practice of modeling,

functions here as a metaphor for what it means to be human. The male models above

are acting out their happy moods for the economy clothier H&M.


Models are models. They’re expected to adjust their bodies and faces to meet the needs of clients. Carl’s experience, and the practice of modeling, functions here instead as a metaphor for what it means to be human in an era that values performance over substance, malleability over character, pretense over essence.


Metaphor seeps into reality in Part I, featuring Carl and Yaya (Charlbi Dean, who died of sepsis 6 months ago at age 32), a modeling/influencer couple (“being with you is good for business,” she says to Carl), who argue at length over who should have picked up the restaurant tab. Yaya, a self-described manipulator, can’t consider hunky Carl as a potential husband, because–as she tells him—her only career trajectory as she ages out of modelling is as a trophy wife (more performance).

 

“I love you because you give me fish."

 

Here and elsewhere, Carl appears to take the high road, that is, to have a value system. We learn what he’s in fact made of in Part III (The Island), when he dumps Yaya for an older woman who purchases his affection with seafood and pretzel sticks (“I love you because you give me fish”). Ordinary schlep Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin) kills a donkey for food, then lectures on the contemporary equivalent of the Lascaux cave paintings. Later, in a march across the island, Yaya compliments and flatters the woman who stole her man.


Woody Harrelson, right,

as the inebriated captain who

retrieves Marxist quotes

from his cellphone in a "debate"

with a capitalist Russian.






In Part II (The Yacht), the ship’s alcohol-fueled and irresponsible Captain (Woody Harrelson) and an ultra-rich Russian (Zlatko Buric) debate the virtues of capitalism and Communism while Rome burns, with the Captain perversely holding forth on Marx and the Russian defending capitalism (only to spout “to each according to his needs” when circumstances change).


Words mean nothing. No one has a core.


A matriarchy of sorts evolves in Part III: The Island. Toilet manager Abigail (Dolly De Leon), front center, with model Yaya (Charlbi Dean), left, and purser Paula (Vicki Berlin), right.


 

It’s not just vulgar elites who are on trial in Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner, it’s the nature of the self.

 

This bleak view of people as chameleons comes with a heavy dose of contempt for the wealthy, a theme almost as old as the movies and yet continually refreshed (“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” TV’s “White Lotus”), and one that has dominated this film’s marketing while capturing the attention of reviewers. It’s not just vulgar elites who are on trial in Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner, it’s the nature of the self. In a scene on the luxury yacht that echoes the medieval Carnevale custom of temporarily exchanging positions with a person of another class, one of the rich Russians, who sips champagne while lounging in an on-deck hot-tub, insists that a staff member trade places with her—that is, hop in the tub while she plays server. In still another assault on whatever remains of the dignity of the working class, this overbearing “guest” requires that the boat’s staff enjoy the water slide and a dip in the ocean. This misguided notion of inter-class “exchange” morphs into sordid reality in the third segment, “The Island,” with its hints of William Golding’s 1954 “Lord of the Flies.” Watch for “toilet manager” Abigail (Philippine actress Dolly De Leon).


“Triangle of Sadness” has been billed as an over-the-top, entertaining farce, and it is that. It’s also much more, and that is why it’s received 3 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (Östlund), and Best Director. It’s a character study (or, better put, an absence-of-character study—you think you know people until you don’t). And there’s just enough plot to test the protagonists, to reveal what’s inside them.

Which isn’t much. We are all models.


 

Date: 2022

Director: Ruben Östlund

Starring: Charlbi Dean, Harris Dickinson, Dolly De Leon, Woody Harrelson, Henrik Dorsin, Zlatko Buric, Vicki Berlin

Countries: Multiple (not considered a foreign film for Oscar purposes)

Languages: Multiple, but primarily English

Runtime: 147 minutes

Oscar Nominations: 3: Best Motion Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director

Other Awards: 20 wins, including France’s Palme d’Or, and 60 other nominations

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