Ruben Östlund's outrageous follow-up to The Square is undeniably entertaining, but its ideas about wealth feel shallow and obvious
There are three distinct “parts” to Ruben Östlund's latest satire, Triangle of Sadness, presumably making up the three sides of the movie's angular title, a film in which the acclaimed Swedish director – who won the Palme d'Or for his art world satire The Square back in 2017 and now returns to Cannes with this follow-up – attempts to navigate the choppy waters of wealth and privilege to often uproarious but frequently heavy-handed effect.
Östlund is a filmmaker whose work has grown increasingly less subtle over the years – his near-masterpiece Force Majeure took male insecurity as its seed and created something as sleek and taut as an Alpine ski slope, while his more meandering follow-up The Square felt like a director offloading a museum's worth of ideas into a single film, narrative cohesion be damned. Now, he has made arguably his broadest film to date, an explosion of class-based satirical ideas that alternately hit, miss, and eventually overcompensate.
The film's most successful and most plainly enjoyable act is its first, which relays an increasingly volatile date between male model Carl (an excellent Harris Dickinson) and influencer Yaya (Charlbi Dean). Flailing in his career, and perhaps looking to vent some frustration, Carl sets in motion a never-ending argument about who should pay the bill at a fancy restaurant that he then refuses to drop over a hilarious 45 minute back-and-forth. With the film at its most subtle, it's an immensely funny and well-paced sequence that would have made an excellent feature in its own right.
Things get crazier as we follow the couple onto a luxury yacht (Yaya's influencer status means she's been granted a free trip), where we meet a host of uniquely despicable but wealthy characters, including Russian tycoon Dimitriy (Zlatko Burić). It's also here that Woody Harrelson – the film's only big-name star – arrives with an inspired and nutty turn as the world's worst captain, an alcoholic who at first refuses to come out of his room for days on end and then proceeds to get blind drunk, a decision that inadvertently seals the fate of the passengers and crew in one of the most absurdly grotesque sequences – an explosion of sick, shit, and salty spray that will either delight or test the patience of the viewer – before stranding the survivors on a deserted island to deal with the consequences.
For Östlund, the point here is clearly transparency: he is not holding back, and seems to have delighted in merely creating a playground in which to batter the rich and entitled into submission. As a filmmaker, though, he's always been better at creating individual scenes, moments of squirming awkwardness and horror, rather than a cohesive larger picture. Something of the filmmaker's once artful hand seems lost in the second and third segments, especially since the film's exploration of its most intriguing idea – that these people end up on a deserted island where their class roles are reversed – never seems to reach its full potential, the director more interested in pursuing tangents with little dramatic payoff.
Still, this is a very watchable and entertaining 15o-minute movie. Unlike The Square, whose slow pacing made it a bit of a chore to sit through, there is always something going on here to keep you engaged, and the first part is such a brilliantly funny and well-observed mini-opera of building resentment and self-loathing. Still, as Östlund's characters take to battering animals – and maybe each other – with large rocks in the final reel, the director's failing is to feel a constant need to do the same to his audience.
Triangle of Sadness was screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2022. A UK release date is yet to be announced.Where to watch