Of all the festivals to present this feature at, Cannes is by far the boldest choice. Set against the backdrop of a lavish yacht harbour, the annual event on the French Riviera is equally about fashion as it is about films, where black-market ticket prices (for those who are not lucky enough to be connected) go up to four figures.
Five years after winning the Palme d’Or with his satirical reckoning of the pretentious art world, The Square’s director Ruben Östlund turns to exposing the rich and the beautiful that make up a large part of the audience at the Croisette.
Triangle of Sadness consists of three parts, which are linked by model couple Carl and Yaya. Working in one of the few industries in which women out-earn their male peers, Carl can’t see why he is expected to foot the bill for their shared meals all the time. After extensively arguing about this in chapter one, chapter two takes the pair onto a luxury cruise she has been gifted in exchange for promotion. While the gluten-intolerant Yaya poses for pictures with pasta she won’t eat, her boyfriend gets a member of staff fired because he feels insecure in his presence. The other guests on board are equally ridiculous: an elderly British couple complain about the hardships imposed on their landmine business by the UN; a garish Russian family, whose patriarch built an empire out of manure, orders the cruise staff to go swimming.
The attitude instilled in all members of the crew is that customers’ requests must never be denied. The hierarchy is painfully obvious: the entitled behaviour of the passengers may be testing the service workers’ patience, but they too are in a position of privilege compared with the non-white labourers keeping things ticking over below-deck.
Östlund’s script is full of amusing back-and-forth that thins down in the last act as a role reversal ensures that Triangle of Sadness rises above a blunt “eat the rich” farce. The characters are a wonderful contradiction of stereotyped and three-dimensional. Beachrats’s Harris Dickinson, who stars as Carl, creates a gentle balance between likability and obnoxiousness. Charlbi Dean is a model in her own right, but her Yaya is a dead ringer for Emily Ratajkowski – her bikinis look like they were taken straight from the My Body author’s own swimwear line. But in his limited screentime of approximately 20 minutes (out of the film’s two and a half hours), Woody Harrelson manages to steal the show. He delivers the picture’s comedic highpoint: his socialist ship captain quotes Lenin and Marx at the Russian capitalist who responds with “wisdom” from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, while the ship is being flooded by the passengers’ excretions.
Triangle of Sadness is not nearly as artistic as The Square, in fact opting for a rather sledgehammer method to drive its message home, but it is one of those rare creations that can elicit genuine laughter and resonant contemplation from its audience at the same time.
Triangle of Sadness does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.