Ruben Östlund’s triangle of sadness says “Blech!”

Photo: Fredrik Wenzel Platt

Cannes has an odd relationship with class. People travel as far south as the south of France to sip champagne, wear tuxedos and give standing ovations to films about how unbearable the rich and privileged are. Is it a permanent debt? Or in a city where superyachts dot the horizon and there’s always a party you’re not invited to, even the most vocal of attendees manage to feel like the have-nots?

Something like that comes to mind during the standing ovation for Ruben Östlund triangle of sadness, one of the most critically acclaimed titles to be played in competition this year. The Swedish author is behind Östlund Force majeure and Palme d’Or winners The square, Satires that transform the unselfishness of their heroes into comic symphonies. He specializes in men who constitutionally can’t apologize: In Force majeure, a middle-aged husband’s refusal to admit that he had left his family in a moment of fear became a social disease that poisoned the relationships of everyone he met; in The squarethe ironic detachment of a museum director from everything, including his own actions, led to his downfall.

There’s a man who can’t apologize triangle of sadness, although here he’s just one player in a whole ensemble of horrors. He’s Carl (Harris Dickinson), a male model who sucks off his more successful influencer girlfriend (Charlbi Dean); When they go out to dinner, the question arises as to who pays Virginia Woolf–Style psychodrama. (Thanks to Ostlund for continuing to paint whole new shades of masculine weakness.) Thanks more to their Instagram followers than their actual funds, the pair end up on a super-rich cruise full of the usual suspects: trophy wives, Russian oligarchs, British war profiteers complaining about UN landmine regulations. (More unusual is the ship’s captain, a Marxist played by Woody Harrelson.) It is That white lotus on the high seas, at least until the early end of the cruise. Then social hierarchies are turned upside down and new currencies gain in value. The aim, Östlund told the crowd at the film’s press conference on Sunday, is to portray nothing less than “the end of Western civilisation”.

Whether he reached these heights is disputed. Greed, condescension and shallowness are all prime targets for satire, but as the film progresses it feels like a Twitter feed is coming alive. While Östlund’s eye for comedy is as good as ever, it’s hard to resist the feeling here that he’s picking on the simplest of gags. Critics’ reviews have been mixed: some have called it the best of the festival, while the GuardianPeter Bradshaw from . However, the audience eats it up. The eight-minute standing ovation at the premiere was one of the longest to date, and the audience at my press screening bled the entire time. (I had no sleep at hour 27 so mostly felt like the room was swaying with the boat.) From an unscientific poll of the non-journalists I cruised with, triangle of sadness is the only competitive title with a sort of “Have you seen?” buzz.

However, there is one extended set piece that everyone can agree on. Halfway the cruise gets caught in a storm, in the middle of an elegant dinner. First, crew and guests just wipe it off. The serving carts rattle around the dining room, but the meal must go on anyway. Then the vomiting begins. Upchuck in every color, with frankly impressive hydraulic pressure. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the toilets are finally overflowing. Streams of sewage flood the hallways like a particularly brown remake of The glow. This movie is 150 minutes long and I would estimate at least 30 of those are dedicated to bodily fluids. Cannes has a reputation for being an extremely tough crowd and perhaps that toughness is why viewers endure. Instead of provoking strikes, the film proceeds like a gangbuster. Östlund literally rubs his audience’s nose in the shit, and they love him for it.

As dark as it may be, as a broad comedy triangle of sadness stands out in a comparatively dismal competitive lineup. One of the random themes of this year’s chalkboard was moral hypocrisy. James Grays Armageddon periodthe Romanian dramedy RMNand the Iranian serial killer thriller Holy Spider are all filled with characters doing bad things while camouflaging their actions in the language of moral righteousness. Maybe because of this triangle of sadness resonates: There’s no hiding how terrible all these people are. Your ugliness will come out, one end or the other.

See everything Ruben Östlund’s triangle of sadness says “Blech!”

Lindsay Lowe

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