Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

The political satire

Triangle of Sadness
Regissør: Ruben Östlund
(Sverige/Frankrike/Storbritannia mfl.)

OSLO PIX / With Palme d'Or winner Triangle of Sadness, Swedish Ruben Östlund is even more bitingly satirical – and more directly political – than before.


During this year's film festival in Cannes, Swede Ruben Östlund was awarded the Palme d'Or itself Triangle of Sadness, as he also became for his previous feature film The Square in 2017. With that, he consolidates his position as the Nordic region's most internationally recognized filmmaker.

Östlund's earliest feature films Gitarmongo (2004) The involuntary (2008) and Play (2011) were all characterized by a static idiom, in addition to the fact that they contained a kind of sociological examination of the Swedish folk soul – often interspersed with copious doses of comedy of embarrassment. In the subsequent feature films Tourist (2014) and mentioned The Square the style was somewhat less tabular, while social satire became increasingly prominent. Most of all this applies The Square, which was apparently a satire on the contemporary art scene. But this setting was rather used as a starting point for a more general social satire – and more specifically a discussion about social hierarchies in Scandinavia.

It is liberating that the film discusses political ideologies in such a direct way.

Classic Östlund moments

This is not entirely unlike how one could get the impression from the earliest previews that Östlund's new (and first English-language) film was to be a satire about the international world of fashion and top models. This can be denied. Again, it will be about social hierarchies, this time with a reasonably explicit discussion of political and economic ideologies.

Initially introduces Triangle of Sadness us though for the models Clark (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), who serve as a kind of main characters. The first part of the film, which is named after the two, offers several classic Östlund moments – not least a scene where the pair are out at a restaurant and Clark complains that he always has to pick up the bill, despite Yaya earning three times more than him. The discussion that follows is as precious as it is unpleasant, with many keenly observed details. And Östlund knows how to drag out the sequence to maximize the effect, in terms of both humor and discomfort.

Harrelson and Östlund

Physical comedy

In the second part of the film, the couple find themselves on a luxury cruise ship, where the majority of passengers are far more wealthy than themselves. This is where the film's satirical project shows its true face, and especially in its depiction of the contrast between the cruise passengers and the ship's staff. For example, in a delightfully embarrassing sequence that occurs when a wealthy lady insists that the latter should also have some fun, and almost commands the entire staff to take a not necessarily pleasurable dip in the sea.

"Especially in the contrast between the cruise passengers and the ship's staff, the film's satirical project shows its true face."

Here we also meet the oligarch Dimitry (Zlatko Burić, known from the Danish Pusher-films), who refers to himself as the "king of shit" because he has made his fortune from fertiliser. Woody Harrellson plays the yacht's alcoholic captain, a sworn Marxist who enters into a lengthy (and very drunken) discussion about political and economic ideologies with Dimitry – while the ship ends up in increasingly troubled waters. With this ingest Triangle of Sadness a more physical – not to say corporeal – type of comedy than you've seen from Östlund so far. Now the kingdoms will literally wallow in vomit and faeces, in an extended sequence that may bring to mind a certain restaurant scene in Monty Python's The meaning of life.

All details will not be revealed here, apart from the fact that the film's third and final part takes place on an island. The stranded passengers and employees consequently find themselves in a situation where the hierarchical roles are turned upside down, and where we can ask ourselves whether we are witnessing socialism in practice – or an equally brutal form of capitalism.

As previously mentioned, the satirical elements have become increasingly evident in Östlund's films. IN Triangle of Sadness the satire is by no means subtle. However, it is liberating that the film discusses political ideologies in such a direct way – not only in the aforementioned conversation between the captain and the oligarch, but in the action itself. You really don't see that often in recent feature films. And if the humor is sometimes farcical, the film is just as genuinely funny – in addition to the fact that the satire contains several layers and nuances.

Norwegian satire: Sick of Myself

Triangle of Sadness has an early premiere at Oslo Pix (29 August to 4 September), where it is the closing film. This festival opens with the Norwegian feature film Sick of Myself, directed by Kristoffer Borgli – which also had its international premiere at Cannes, specifically in the side section Un Certain Regard.

Although not as political, contains Sick of Myself much of the same biting form of satire as Östlund's film. Borgli made his feature film debut in 2017 with Drip, which was also strongly satirical – at the time about the international advertising industry. His new film is about a young woman (Kristine Kujath Thorp) who inflicts a very visible skin disease from some self-imported pills, because she wants to take up the battle for the attention of her friends and the media with her artist boyfriend. Sick of Myself in other words, enters rather fearlessly into the ongoing debate about the victim role and how this can be used to win sympathy. It remains to be seen whether the film itself will create debate
- but there is at least a certain sting in Borgli's satirical project as well.

Triangle of Sadness is the closing film at Oslo Pix on Sunday 4.9 September,
and has a Norwegian cinema premiere on 14 October.

Sick of Myself has a Norwegian cinema premiere on 9 September,
and was also shown as a pre-premiere at Oslo Pix.

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

Related articles