Triangle Of Sadness (NC16)
147 minutes, opens on Thursday exclusively at The Projector
The story: Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) are both models and dating, but his low pay compared with hers strains the relationship. She is invited to a cruise for the super-wealthy in return for exposure on her social media platforms, and he is her plus-one. On board, the worst jobs are handled by an invisible army of Asians and Africans, among them the housekeeper Abigail (Filipino actress Dolly de Leon), while the Caucasian crew members do the frontline tasks. Overseeing it all is an American captain (Woody Harrelson). Soon, a shocking incident lays open the divides of race and class that riddle the ship.
Social commentary films are famously tricky because audiences can smell snobbery and smugness a mile away. Hit the target too hard and too pointedly and it is an audience turn-off. Hit too softly and with too much humour and it becomes a pointless exercise.
A recent example is Adam McKay’s star-studded climate change allegory Don’t Look Up (2021). While most critics agreed with its message, they hated its goofy, meandering energy.
No goofing around here. Swedish writer-director Ruben Ostlund makes his English-language debut with this funny, sharply observed work after a string of well-received comedy-dramas that put middle-class characters in a pickle.
In Force Majeure (2014), a Swedish couple on holiday with their kids are forced to confront the void in their marriage; while in The Square (2017), a glib, much-admired art curator is made to look into the emptiness in his soul.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Triangle Of Sadness’ title takes its name from the zone on the forehead most prone to showing age-related stress, according to a plastic surgeon character. There is a cure for it, if you have money.
There is an early scene that echoes the famous bedroom condom debate in The Square (look it up on YouTube).
In an exchange that is both brilliantly funny and toe-curlingly awkward, Carl tries to hint to Yaya that it is her turn to pick up the bill after a meal in a pricey restaurant.
Her obliviousness to his growing discomfort forces him to almost speak the truth that will destroy him – that male models are disposable and the only way to keep doing the job is to leech off someone with money. He is a pitiful creature, until one realises there are many like him – holding jobs, but still poor.
Ostlund conveys Carl’s discomfort without being literal. There is an easy naturalism to the performances, brought about by the film-maker’s use of improvisation. The model will soon discover that his beauty and talent for parasitism – and Yaya’s casual acceptance of it – will come in handy.
Hot take: On board a swanky ship, youth, beauty and wealth collide with age, poverty and plainness, with hilarious results.