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Middleburg Review: “Triangle of Sadness” Delights Through Excess

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | October 24th, 2022

Film poster: “Triangle of Sadness”

Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars. 

A satire of the upper classes and those who aspire to join them, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s latest work, Triangle of Sadness, is both outrageously funny and guilty of the same sins of excess of those it lampoons. It’s a wild ride of a movie, filled with juicy takedowns of entitlement. Raucous performances from much of the cast bolster the comedy, and a brilliant turn by one actor in the final act turns the film into something surprisingly poignant. Expect much mayhem and let the good times roll.

Divided into three sections, the movie starts among models and would-be influencers. Meet Carl (Harris Dickinson, Matthias & Maxime) and Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean, Don’t Sleep). He struts his stuff down walkways and she makes money on social media. It’s he who bears the titular mark on his forehead, at least according to someone auditioning him. You can’t look too worn when you’re marketing product.

l-r: Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson in TRIANGLE OF SADNESS ©Neon

Soon, after some arguments about who should pay for what, the two find themselves on an expensive cruise for the ultra-rich, which Yaya has been given for her online promotions. There, they meet an eclectic cast of characters, including Dimitry (Zlatko Buric, Teen Spirit), a Russian “King of Shit” (as he bills himself, given how he made his fortune through fertilizer), and his entourage. Paula (Vicki Berlin), the efficient but anxious cruise director, presides over the vast array of wealthy passengers all clamoring for equally special treatment, while the captain (Woody Harrelson, Kate), drinks away his troubles in his cabin.

Our interlude on board provides ample delights, especially once a storm strikes during the captain’s dinner, leading to seasickness and other disasters. If vomit hurling through the air and fecal matter sloshing through corridors is too much of you, you may want to think some happy thoughts throughout what follows and tune out, though if you do you will miss the joys of a back-and-forth quote contest between the Captain and Dimitry, the one a self-proclaimed “American Marxist” and the other a “Russian capitalist.” And then, catastrophe.

Woody Harrelson in TRIANGLE OF SADNESS ©Neon

The final extended sequence brings our principal characters to an island, where Abigail (Dolly De Leon, Midnight in a Perfect World), a cleaner from the yacht, suddenly discovers that she is the only with the skills (fishing, building fire) needed to survive. What good is money and power when your basic needs aren’t being met? And so some tables are very much turned as the folks who thought they ruled the world, or were hobnobbing with the rulers, are forced to swallow their dignity.

Östlund (The Square) is no stranger to skewering the establishment, and here he has his ample targets easily in sight. That’s all to the good but also sometimes not, the jokes and parody occasionally descending too quickly into caricature (I do love Harrelson’s turn, however). For every obvious dramatic punch, however, there are at least two or three that land with a sharp and devious shock. That makes for a winning cinematic ratio. Even when Triangle of Sadness strikes a little too bluntly, then, it still offers truths that matter and, best of all, that entertain.

Actress Dolly De Leon receives the 2022 Middleburg Film Festival Breakthrough Performance Award for TRIANGLE OF SADNESS ©Christopher Llewellyn Reed



Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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