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PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2022 6:14 pm 
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CHARLBI DEAN AND HARRIS DICKINSON IN TRIANGLE OF SADNESS

Östlund shocks and entertains but his points are scattershot - for a second time

Ruben Östlund's new film Triangle of Sadness is painfully entertaining and wickedly funny. It holds your attention from show-offy opening to cliff-hanger finale. Yet it is annoying and disappointing in many ways. Though a wickedly funny entertainment, if's also heavy-handed, obvious and full of irrelevancies, and doesn't do justice to its premise. The theme comes from J. M. Barrie's 1902 play The Admirable Crichton (adapted as a film in 1957) about role reversals when a group of posh passengers is shipwrecked and marooned on a desert island, and a social inferior takes over because he is a skillful outdoorsman. A few shards of the original play and film remain. The issue of social justice is very relevant, because we live in a time of a surfeit of the super-rich and an erosion of social values. Östlund knows how to make us uncomfortable, as he showed with racial discomfort in his 2011 Play, and the futile attempt to escape a moment of cowardice in his 2014 Force Majeure. He likes to look at society through the wrong end of the telescope. His methods are scattershot here, though, as they were in his 2017 The Square, where the director abandoned the intense focus of Play and Force Majeure and focused on at least three different plots. That's more or less what happens here.

Perhaps seeking relevance, or riffing obscurely off a romance in the original play, Östlund focuses first of all on two young super-models, which allows for ironic focus on sexual roles. Yaha (Charlbi Dean, who died before the film came out) makes three times as much as her boyfriend Carl (Harris Dickinson). Their opening section is an amusing, uncomfortable panel from another film, in which, after a sequence showing off Carl toyed with by fashion industry managers ("triangle of sadness" comes from an unfavorable critique of his face), the pair argue over money at length. Women's liberation obviously means little to their relationship. Carl is the disadvantaged one, and it's painful that he wants to be "friends" or "equals," since she can afford the posh restaurants much better than he can. And yet still she plays the woman's game, this time, anyway, of leaving the check for him to pick up. This sequence is rather good.

The segue (this film is in chapters) is that to appease Carl perhaps, Yaya, who is an "influencer" - which means constantly photographing herself with her phone, takes Carl along on a free trip she's been offered on a luxury yacht. Later, we will realize that Abagail (Dolly De Leon), the yacht cleaning lady who's going to become "captain" on the island through her survival skills, notices the desirability of Carl, whom on the island she calls "Cutie-Pie." Even on the island, when they have nothing, Abagail's taking over Carl leads to lots of painful discussion between him and Yaya: their neurotic relationship survives in extremis. In a cast of characters none of whom is at all appealing Dickinson somehow seems sympathetic. Tall and thin, with his perfect pecs and abs, he has long arms that reach out all the time and he seems like a sleek, wide-eyed human praying mantis, eager and well-meaning.

The social aspect is updated, necessarily. The vessel that sinks is a $250 million luxury yacht. Though there are new-rich types - a clueless old couple super-rich from dealing arms; a boorish jokey Russian billionaire (Zlatko Buric) who delights in declaring that his fortune comes from "shit," and a bore whose wealth is from some stultifyingly uninteresting Silicon Valley product. The yacht gets waylaid by a heavy storm and sunk by hand grenades shot off by local terrorists (Östlund isn't taking any chances). Unfortunately the desert island phase of the film is the most lame.

Apart from the coming reversal of fortune, the yacht may remind you of David Foster Wallace's piece "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," which explained how a cruise where a passenger's every need is taken care of can turn into velvet-fingered torture. The service crew is introduced in a scene where their nervous supervisor Paula (Vicki Berlin) gives a pep-talk in which the "client is king" rule is ramped up to the max. Here, crew must absolutely never say no to a passenger. Thus a far-fetched sequence where one nutty rich lady insists a staff member join her in the sauna, then revises that to command the whole crew to don swimming gear and go down the sea-slide for a swim in the ocean.

The Captain (Woody Harrelson) is a drunkard holed up in his cabin and Paula has great difficulty getting him out and in uniform for the evening of the "Captain's dinner." This is where all hell lets loose after the seas turn so stormy passengers flee to their staterooms, but not before there is way more projectile vomiting than even the most heavy-handed get-the-rich program made necessary. A character in Barrie's original who's addicted to aphorisms seems to explain how the Captain, in front of a microphone broadcasting throughout the ship, exchanges sayings about socialism and communism with the Russian shit dealer; both have sympathies with both, it seems.

This is a ridiculous and over-the-top sequence, but it's undeniably compelling in its threatening, energetic chaos. The trouble is that the following, island, sequence is such an anti-climax, starting with a greatly reduced cast for it.

What can we make of this movie? As with The Square, Östlund seems a little too pleased with himself, convinced because his film contains topically relevant material and shock value it will gain accolades despite lack of formal coherence. And he succeeds, since awards do come in. But the critics were far less pleased with The Square than with Play and Force Majeure, and still less pleased with Triangle of Sadness than with The Square. Maybe Östlund, who has plenty of talent, should start listening to this critical consensus and make less flashy but better movies.

Triangle of Sadness (French title 'Sans filtre'), 147 mins., debuted at Cannes, where it won the Palme d'Or and a CSI technician prize. It was included in other prestigious international festivals, including Sydney, Sarajevo, Toronto, Zurich, and New York (NYFF Main Slate), among others. Screened for this review for the opening noon show - with two other viewers - at AMC Bay Street, Emeryville Oct. 29, 2022. Metacritic rating: 63%.

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