Ruben Ostlund’s fabulous drama won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It’s almost certain to get several nods at the Oscars. Yet, at the risk of sounding indelicate, the thing most likely to put bums on seats is the fact that it’s been dubbed the “most disgusting film of 2022”. What everybody’s talking about: the shit-just-got-real sequence, on board a luxury ship.
Ostlund is behind art-house hits Force Majeure and The Square, and this is his first English-language project and its stars include Woody Harrelson and Harris Dickinson. Ostlund, it seems fair to infer, is done with the naughty but niche tag; the provocateur wants to screw with as many minds as he can.
Fretful Cockney model, Carl, (Dickinson, who is perfectly cast) has misgivings about his South African influencer girlfriend, Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean; also perfect). Carl feels Yaya is a bit of a game-player, especially where money is concerned. She treats him like a sugar daddy but Carl values equality.
When they both get free tickets for a cruise, (stuffed with various members of the 1%, along with a few hunky members of the 99% and Harrelson’s Marxist Captain Thomas), the young couple’s relationship is tested to breaking point. But when Carl and Yaya find themselves in a lust triangle, the third party is the last person you’d expect to pose a threat.
This movie is full of triangular situations (a Russian oligarch is on board with his wife and mistress), though the title literally refers to that bit of the forehead, between the eyebrows, where worry lines accrue. Some reviewers have suggested Ostlund’s satire lacks subtlety. Pish. To claim the film’s fashion police are too shallow is like saying Lord of the Flies’ Jack is too obnoxious. Ostlund’s vision is definitely extreme, but it’s bang on.
Once a storm and some spoiled sea-food wreak havoc on the guests’ stomachs and their limbs, it’s easy to miss how precisely the script’s themes fit together. As in Everything Everywhere All at Once, there’s a sexy female, with hidden talents, who’s tough, middle-aged, not Caucasian and far from privileged. It’s so apt that for the past few decades, Filipina actress, Dolly De Leon, has basically been an invisible woman. She surges into view at the exact moment her character does. Better late than never.
One element of the film that might put punters off is the running time. Luckily, dynamic camera-work makes every second feel urgent. Where some cameras move like a docile dog, Ostlund’s hovers, and lunges, like a famished wolf. The film’s third act is especially tense.
What a relief, by the way, to know that Triangle of Sadness will never be remade, unlike Force Majeure, which was adapted into English (see 2020’s Downhill or, rather, don’t). Parasite’s Bong Joon-ho encouraged English-language speakers to embrace sub-titles. Ostlund has thrown in the towel, re that fight. But the upside is that his creation can never get lost in translation.
Ostlund has made a violently entertaining drama about a horrifically sad situation. Whether your heart goes out to the ship’s beleaguered guests, or its harried staff, the phrase “cruising for a bruising” will never sound quite the same again.