Following his 2017 critically-acclaimed film The Square, Ruben Östlund has returned with another Palme d’Or-winning film, this time set on a cruise ship for the uber-rich and beautiful. Triangle of Sadness, which is also a beauty industry term for the wrinkles between one’s eyebrows, continues to prove Östlund’s mastery of satire.
While collaborating with a friend for a clothing line, Östlund researched the beauty industry and unraveled the inequalities within it. This begins his conception of the characters Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson).
Carl and Yaya explore gender inequality within the beauty industry. The film opens with Carl auditioning for a print ad as if he’s only starting out in his career. He then attends a fashion show where Yaya walks the runway. The film establishes that being a female model is more glamorous than being a male one. Östlund amusingly initiates this further with a dinner scene where the couple fights about who pays the bill, delving deep into gender roles. This first part of the film is entitled “Carl and Yaya.”
With their beauty and influence online, they get invited to a yacht filled with the uber-rich captained by a left-leaning socialist with Marxist principles (Woody Harrelson). The second part of the film, entitled “The Yacht,” shows how disgusting the wealthy can be, figuratively and literally, as they socialize in a small space like the yacht. The film gets raunchy and fun; I’d like to imagine it as if Titanic was a comedic, grating criticism of the rich. The ship is divided by social standings: there are the uber-rich and beautiful; the mostly white upper crew, who wait on hand and foot to the rich and does the day-to-day operations; and the lower crew, who clean after everyone else and do the dirty work.
The lower crew are visibly Filipino, a deliberate choice from Östlund. Shipping and cruise companies have been the leading employers of overseas Filipino workers. In “The Yacht,” they are passive characters. Their only function is to follow orders and ensure that the ship is clean and running. But as the yacht endures turbulent weather and circumstance, the social order is shuffled about as survivors land on a nearby island.
The third part of the film, “The Island,” turns Triangle of Sadness into something out of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The survivors, including Carl and Yaya, try to get by with little to no resources. Abigail, played by the astounding Dolly de Leon, proves herself as the provider for the group and becomes their leader.
De Leon is the scene-stealer of this film even though she only has a significant role in the last part. In my screening, the audience roared in applause as de Leon’s Abigail places herself in the group. Through the Filipino workers with Abigail, the film explores social class, status, gender, and race. Any other filmmaker would have completely ignored the importance of Filipino workers on the ship, but Östlund knew their significance. He wrote the best character in the film with Abigail.
Triangle of Sadness is a fun, raunchy film that pokes fun at the rich. It also shows how beauty, at the end of the day, is one’s most viable asset. Charlbi Dean was a remarkable actress in this film, and her sudden passing is truly a loss as this would have launched her acting career. This film also spotlights the best Filipino talent that is Dolly de Leon, and hopefully, this gets her the accolades she deserves after decades of working in the industry back home.
‘Triangle of Sadness’ is slated for theatrical release on October 7.