“Ruben’s in the house” went the rumour. And indeed, there he was: Ruben Ostlund was back for the business end of the Cannes Film Festival.
As the prizes were given out on Saturday in the Grand Auditorium Louis Lumiere for the festival’s 75th year, it was becoming clear that his film Triangle of Sadness was going to walk away with the Palme d’Or, the Cannes’ coveted top prize.
The Swedish director now joins a rarefied group of filmmakers who have won two Golden Palms (his first was for 2017’s The Square) and an even smaller elite who have done it for consecutive films (Michael Haneke managed it for 2009’s The White Ribbon and 2012’s Amour).
The film is another attempt by Ostlund to take a sledgehammer to the privileged few.
British actor Harris Dickinson plays Carl, a young male model who already may be past his sell-by-date. His model/influencer girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) takes him on a luxury cruise — a trip she’s clearly been given for free as long as she posts regular lithe shots of herself in a bikini on deck to all her followers.
Scroll through the gallery below to see all the winners at the Cannes Film Festival 2022:
There, they encounter other super-wealthy patrons, including a Russian oligarch (Zlatko Buric) and a well-meaning British couple (Amanda Walker, Oliver Ford Davies) who turn out to be arms manufacturers.
Steering the ship is Woody Harrelson’s Marx-quoting captain, who stays in his cabin for the first half of the cruise, clearly spiralling into a drink-addled depression.
As the ocean gets choppier, however, Ostlund goes for the jugular — with an extended sequence so outlandish and crude, you’ll either be repulsed or overjoyed. You can call it toilet humour if you wish, but as passengers get sick and start throwing up (and worse), it’s like Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, with Terry Jones’s gargantuan diner Mr Creosote vomiting in a five-star restaurant, amped up to a million.
Some on this ship of fools make it into the final third, when the boat goes down and they get stranded on a desert island and must pool their resources to survive. You might expect Lord of the Flies-like savagery, but Ostlund leans more towards the JM Barrie play The Admirable Crichton, as roles are reversed and hierarchies upended. Suddenly, crew members — such as toilet cleaner Abigail (Dolly De Leon) — hold all the cards, blessed with the necessary skills to survive.
As with The Square, a coruscating satire set in the art world, Triangle of Sadness was utterly divisive. British newspaper The Guardian gave it two stars from five, calling it “strident, derivative and dismayingly deficient in genuine laughs” — which only goes to show how humour really is a very personal thing. At the screening I attended, people were howling with laughter, more than any other film at the festival this year. You either loved it or you hated it, so the fact the nine people of the Cannes jury — led by French actor Vincent Lindon — were able to agree is intriguing.
The question is: why did a film like this win now, in 2022? Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, that a movie sets out to lance the super-rich like a pustulating boil — shown in a festival, let us not forget, where the super-rich flaunt their wealth on red carpets and mega-yachts along the French Riviera.
We’re in a period of economic instability, with rampant inflation, seeing energy and food prices shooting up. So watching the elite be cut down to size is a pleasurable pastime for some. Will it change things? No. But there is a cathartic pleasure in a film such as Triangle of Sadness, a reminder that fortunes can change in an instant.