Film review

Jerusalem Film Fest fetes return with wry desert island flick ‘Triangle of Sadness’

Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning comedy masterpiece starts as a roiling comedy, but the ending may leave some feeling stranded

Cannes Palme d'Or winner 'Triangle of Sadness,' from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund opened the 39th Jerusalem Film Festival on July 21, 2022 (Courtesy PR)
Cannes Palme d'Or winner 'Triangle of Sadness,' from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund opened the 39th Jerusalem Film Festival on July 21, 2022 (Courtesy PR)

Opening the Jerusalem Film Festival Thursday at Sultan’s Pool by the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning comedy masterpiece “Triangle of Sadness” played to a packed venue — marking the first time that a film in the festival has been shown to a full live audience since 2019.

The opening event was attended by dignitaries like President Isaac Herzog and Culture Minister Chili Tropper, though they swiftly decamped once the actual screening began, turning the first couple of rows into a ghost town.

Introducing the film, Östlund held out his phone to the audience to make a point about the importance of watching cinema.

“When we look at things like this, we look at ‘me, me, me,’” Östlund said, displaying his iPhone screen.

He then gestured towards the mammoth screen behind him. “Here, we look at ‘us.’ We look at society, we discuss society.”

Watching a movie following the clampdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nearly-packed house was extremely receptive to the film, a communal sigh of relief following the social isolation and alienation many felt during lockdown.

Audience members, including President Isaac Herzog, second from left), attend the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival, July 21, 2022. (Courtesy: PR)

The film follows Carl (Harris Dickinson) and his girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) as they hobnob with the ultra-rich aboard a super yacht. It stays trained on the two as chaos unfolds behind them, leading to the ship sinking and the group, including some billionaires, a Russian oligarch, an alcoholic captain and a maid being stranded on a desert island. Though it contains elements of comedic farce, the result is less “Gilligan’s Island” and more “Lord of the Flies.”

When the film opens, we meet Carl at a fashion show dominated by vapid branding argle-bargle like ‘Everybody’s Equal… Now.’

Presented as another shade in a line of toned, multicultured bodies, Carl is pushed aside to make room in the front row for more established fashion royalty.

The coquettish Yaya is a manipulative heartbreaker and coyly tells Carl as much after a fight they have about money. The sequence marks what appeared to be the film’s only real attempt to humanize them.

Instead, the model and popular social media influencer are set up as targets of derision. However, the rug is pulled out from under the viewer, and we almost become comrades along with them in witnessing the gaudy opulence of the rich.

On the ship, their berth in the hierarchy of rich and influential becomes more clear. They are hustlers that just happened to stumble onto this lifestyle, unlike the unknown well-to-dos of the world who populate the vessel, such as an elderly British couple named Winston and Clementine, who made their fortune off the family business, hand grenades.

It is here that Östlund shows off his deft hand for comedic cinematography, some of the best this reviewer has ever seen. The frame tilts as if mimicking the sway of the wayward ship. In a scene that would rival the gross-out slapstick of an Adam Sandler or Farrelly Brothers movie, the patrons get food poisoning, and a certain mass exodus ensues. It is profanity worthy of the Marx Brothers.

Writer/director Ruben Ostlund, winner of the Palme d’Or for ‘Triangle of Sadness,’ poses for photographers during the photo call following the awards ceremony at the 75th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 28, 2022. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

The only two diners that remain unscathed are the nameless, alcoholic captain in a mid-life crisis (Woody Harrelson), and Dimitry (Zlatko Buric), a self-described “King of Shit,” having made his green off horse manure in the ashes of the old Soviet Union.

After the American “communist” and Russian “capitalist” level political bromides at each other, they quickly bond over a shared alcoholism, hijacking the ship’s intercom to lambast the rich passengers for their exploitative nature, as the ship rocks precariously. As if that is not enough, they also get attacked by Somali pirates once the storm is over.

Washed ashore, the power dynamics get inverted; without the trappings of society, the lowly worker Abigail (Dolly De Leon) becomes the only person to project competence on the island of misfit capitalist toys. Drama ensues, but the ending is likely to leave many viewers unsatisfied.

While some may feel stranded, that may be the point. A female friend described the conclusion of the feature as “open-ended feminism.”

If women were able to somehow create an inverse of traditional power dynamics, would it be betrayed by personal gain or avarice, that is, subject to the same temptations that traditionally befall any power structure, the film seems to ask.

The answer is unclear, or if it is, Östlund doesn’t let the viewers off easy by providing it to them.

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