triangle of sadness

David Lamelas, Film Screenplay (Manipulation of Meaning), 1972


Commentary on Ruben Östlund's film, currently showing in theaters

Swedish director Ruben Östlund's trademark is his ability, in a few seconds, to transform funny scenes, constructed with a lot of satire and social criticism, into nervous and tense moments. In Force majeure, the comic dialogues resulting from the situation in which a father abandons his children and his wife to protect himself from what they thought was an avalanche reveal several other problems in the family relationship, which a few days later, when going skiing, finds itself separated and lost due to fog.

Already in The Square, the performance of an artist imitating a wild animal at a gala dinner and the main character's argument on the stairs with a child who had been harmed by him are some of the scenes that reflect this rapid change of tone in the director's films. .

triangle of sadness, the most recent film by Ruben Östlund about a luxury cruise, brings this tension and change of heart, from a work that goes almost from a comedy to a thriller, only at the end, after the ship sinks after a pirate attack and force some of its passengers and crew to try to survive on an island. There are, of course, the dinner scenes with the captain, when the ship rocks because of a storm and makes the billionaire passengers sick, but seeing tycoons feeling sick, uncomfortable as it may be, has little ability to generate tension or concern for the public, who prefer to laugh at the ultra-wealthy in a situation like this.

After all, the film is constructed in such a way as to foster the public's rejection of the billionaires who board the cruise. Several scenes make the public have little sympathy for these ultra-rich in their moments of difficulty. There are the eccentric and completely nonsensical requests that make the employees uncomfortable to fulfill them, due to their obligation to serve the rich and to do everything possible to make them satisfied, constantly emphasized by the head of the crew. The complete inability of billionaires when they arrive on the island to light their own fires, catch their own food and clean the fish also contributes to this rejection, even more so because it is precisely the ship's maid, Abigail, who is the only one capable of performing all these services.

The director also takes the opportunity to insert political issues in these scenes in which he satirizes billionaires. In one of the funniest scenes in the film, the captain of the ship, an American who calls himself a Marxist and hears the International drunk in his room, he argues with the abject worldviews of a Russian capitalist who admires Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. There are also the business discussions of a couple of tycoons on board, who work, as the film satirically says, in favor of defending third world democracies, which is nothing more than a euphemism to designate the owners of a large production company. of guns and grenades.

In the post-shipwreck context, some of these social relationships end up changing. The fact of being the only one capable of carrying out the activities necessary for the survival of the group on the island guarantees a special status to the former chambermaid Abigail. And she makes use of her leadership position to claim the right to have better food and shelter conditions, as well as to obtain sexual favors from Carl, a young model who was on board the ship with his girlfriend, the digital influencers Yaya, who had received the trip as a gift in exchange for promoting the cruise on her social media and who is jealous of having lost her boyfriend to a chambermaid.

The presence of the young couple on the ship – who argue over who should pay the bill in restaurants and who seem to be together more to show off on social media than out of affection per se – also seems to be a way for Ruben Östlund to criticize the ostentation and the posts of a supposedly perfect life on social networks, although clearly artificial and far from that of other truly billionaire passengers. But at the same time, it engenders sympathy in the tense final scene, when the audience worries about Yaya, who, superficial as she is, is not one of the trashy ultra-rich the film satirizes.

The other protagonist of the final scene, the former chambermaid Abigail, also arouses sympathy in the public, even when she threatens Yaya after she has finally found a way to obtain ransom, after all her motivation is only to preserve the condition and the status of comfort she acquires through her first time in their lives among the survivors on the island. Ruben Östlund seems to want to indicate here how they are closer in the socio-economic hierarchy than life on the networks demonstrates, but even so, a climate of rivalry is created between the two.

Despite leaving this scene only for the last few seconds of the film, the director does what is characteristic of his work by delivering comic moments that quickly become moments of tension. At the same time, he performs a satire that criticizes the existence and uselessness of the ultra-rich, the illusions caused by social networks and even how a certain middle class fails to understand which side it actually belongs to in the division of society.

*Gustavo Torrecilha is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of São Paulo (USP).


triangle of sadness (Triangle of Sadness)
Germany, France, United Kingdom, Sweden, 2022, 150 minutes
Direction and script: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Charlbi Dean Kriek, Harris Dickinson, Woody Harrelson.

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