"Seasickness is worse on an empty stomach."
After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and again at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, "Triangle of Sadness" has become quite the festival darling of 2022. As Ruben Östlund's latest feature, it's a film that speaks to the times we currently live in, despite how ridiculous it all seems on screen.
Directed by Ruben Östlund, "Triangle of Sadness" is a satirical black comedy that paints a broad picture of wealth internationally, how some people achieve great wealth, and what wealth can do to a person's perception of their surroundings. Skewing the obscenely affluent while demonstrating how kind some actually can be is a tightrope walk, and Östlund does it in every frame. The movie breaks down into three succinct acts: one in which we meet models Carl and Yaya, one in which we tag along with Carl and Yaya aboard a luxury yacht and one in which the balance of power shifts dramatically to significant comedic effect. For a film full of twists and misconceptions, it's unbelievably impressive.
Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) are fashion models famous for their influencer lives on social media, and Yaya is more successful than Carl. Conversations about money and who pays for dinner demonstrate how the balance of power within their relationship is calculated. They board a cruise designed for the super-rich, fit with other affluent couples looking to vacation with the crème de la crème. As if it's a warped episode of Bravo's "Below Deck," the yacht's Captain (Woody Harrelson) and crew members begin clashing with the guests in an actual upstairs/downstairs scenario. Dinner with the captain sends the movie into chaos as the yacht (and camera) begins violently swaying from side to side. Seasickness is the total focus in an extended sequence that can only be compared to the wedding dress shopping fiasco in 2011's "Bridesmaids."
The central plot of the film moves away from Carl and Yaya and begins to distort the super-rich. Executed masterfully by Östlund's use of camerawork and detailed screenplay full of political discussions that highlight a delicious collection of characters aboard the doomed yacht, "Triangle of Sadness" morphs into a "Cast Away" sequence on an island in the third act that strives to upset the balance of power. The film strikes a delicate balance to reflect the idea of leverage in every situation. It isn't a movie about how rich people are monsters. In fact, the most despicable characters aboard the yacht also tend to be the friendliest and most welcoming personalities.
"Triangle of Sadness" is a true artist's take on people's twisted behavior when they know they have leverage. The yacht may be the vessel that transports these vile characters, but it is just a cinematic ploy to show the transformation of wealthy people turned into savages when push comes to shove. Yet, it doesn't fully condemn the rich and indicates how some people can be controlled by shifting authority balances in any given relationship.
Charlbi Dean passed away mere months after the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and her strong performance as Yaya carries the movie through a multitude of tones. While most of the film's success belongs to the creative mind of writer/director Ruben Östlund, it's Dean that may be best remembered for the last scene in particular, alongside Dolly de Leon's fantastic take on the character of Abigail. As do many of those around them, Abigail and Yaya undergo various transformations, but they never lose sight of the leverage they have strived for throughout the film. "Triangle of Sadness" is a testament to Yaya's perseverance and the strength of some people willing to do anything to survive in an all-consuming and superficial society.
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