‘Triangle of Sadness’: biting social satire delights Cannes

‘Triangle of Sadness’: biting social satire delights Cannes

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CANNES, France – Models, Instagram influencers and Russian oligarchs collide on a yacht – and very extreme illness ensues – in Ruben Östlund’s ‘Triangle of Sadness’, a social satire that has Festival viewers hysterical of Cannes.

The Swedish filmmaker’s latest, co-starring Woody Harrelson as a Marxist ship captain, made one of the biggest hits at this year’s festival. On its Saturday night premiere, there were such waves of laughter and applause that Östlund compared it on Sunday to a crowd at a football game.

Östlund has already found international audiences for films that aim for money, masculinity and other big social targets in films like the Alpine marital drama “Force Majeure” (remade as “Downhill”, starring Julia Louis Dreyfus and Will Ferrell) and the art world satire “The Square”, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2017.

But in his first film in English, and with twice the budget of “The Square”, Östlund wanted to go even further with his particular brand of “adult roller coaster” cinema.

“I wanted to do something worth leaving your house and leaving your screens, leaving the streaming services you have at home,” Östlund said ahead of the film’s premiere. “I didn’t want to get stuck in the arthouse part of cinema. I really wanted to know that I felt that I liked looking at myself. And the project I was thinking of had a crazy setup.

“Triangle of Sadness,” which is playing in competition for this year’s Palme d’Or, is named after a term in the fashion world for a triangle-shaped crease between the eyebrows. The first third of Östlund’s film follows a model played by Harris Dickinson and his influencer girlfriend played by Charlbi Dean who argue over picking up a check after dinner.

More fashion riffs follow, but “Triangle of Sadness” shifts into another gear in its second act, when they take a trip on a luxury yacht helmed by a drunken socialite (Harrelson). The richest tourists on the boat include arms manufacturers and a Russian fertilizer tycoon played by Zlatko Burić.

“Triangle of Sadness” reaches a comedic crescendo as the seas turn rough, and an elaborate dinner party ends in a farce of vomiting — and worse — as the captain and the oligarch debate politics.

“During my childhood, East and West were banging heads,” says Östlund. “All of a sudden we’re back in there somehow.”

“I was brought up in a house where people talk about society and many ideas that influenced politics in the 1960s,” says Östlund. “Marx was someone who was present in the discussions at my house. If you talk about human behavior and you have a materialistic view of why we behave the way we behave, then it becomes almost impossible not to talk about class.

Harrelson quickly became a big fan of Östlund. On Sunday, he told reporters that making “The Triangle of Sadness” was a “revitalising” experience and announced that he would be in Östlund’s next film whether the director liked it or not. (The plans are genuine. Östlund said the film would be titled “The Entertainment System Is Down.”)

“He can make you extremely uncomfortable,” Harrelson said. “He makes you think. It can give you meaning, like there’s a purpose to seeing the movie — and perhaps more importantly, it keeps you laughing throughout. Which is quite a thing.

Östlund acknowledged that winning the Palme d’Or had previously added pressure to making “Triangle of Sadness”. But given the enthusiasm of the festival-goers, Östlund could find itself again in the race for the Cannes Grand Prix.

“It was a possibility to really try what you dreamed of and not to limit yourself”, explains the director. “For us, it was a chance to combine the best parts of American cinema with the best parts of European cinema, to do something with intellectual content and to do it in an entertaining way.”

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