On potatoes and Monet - Naomi Fry in The New Yorker:
‘But “Triangle of Sadness,” the new black comedy from the Swedish director Ruben Östlund, might be the one to go the hardest. The movie follows a group of wealthy Europeans being waited on hand and foot as they vacation on a superyacht, until a series of disasters, natural and otherwise, brings the class tensions simmering beneath the surface to a violent fever pitch.
Halfway through the film, the shit literally hits the fan. A storm pummels the ship while the guests are eating dinner, turning the yacht into a de-facto vomitorium, as seasick passengers chase haute-cuisine delicacies and flutes of champagne with spots of projectile hurling. Östlund takes his time with this episode, showing the chunks fly, for maximum comic and gross-out effect. (It’s probably the most vomit that I’ve seen onscreen since the pie-contest scene in Rob Reiner’s 1986 movie, “Stand by Me.”) The scene is set to a blaring track from the hardcore Swedish band Refused, with the coup de grâce arriving as the toilets on the yacht overflow, sending rivers of runny excrement coursing through the hallways and down the boat’s steps, drenching the passengers. Meanwhile, the boat’s drunken captain, a self-proclaimed Marxist (Woody Harrelson, having a great time), commandeers the P.A. system. “While you’re swimming in abundance, the rest of the world is drowning in misery,” he rants. The guests are, at this point, virtually swimming in their own poop.’
‘The crudity is part of the point. One could watch “The White Lotus” and conceivably ignore its social-satire element, revelling instead in its beautiful scenery, sexy couplings, and plot intricacies. In comparison, the political message in “Triangle of Sadness” is like a hammer to the head. It’s a tactic worthy of 2022, a time in which climate-change activists attempt to apprise the public of their cause by tossing mashed potatoes at a Monet. But, unlike this gambit, which can feel inexplicable—Why mashed potatoes? Why Monet?—Östlund earns our attention with his transparent tack, and by making an extremely entertaining, even poignant movie. “Triangle of Sadness” is both the mashed potatoes and the Monet.’
‘He himself, he explains to the couple, is a fertilizer king, who built his empire around the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse. “I sell shit,” he sums up, cheerfully. Dimitry is a lot more honest than most of the other guests: if money comes from shit, whether literally or figuratively, much effort usually goes into concealing and sanitizing this fact. (“Our products have been employed in upholding democracy all over the world,” a British arms manufacturer tells Carl and Yaya, at dinner.) As an influencer, Yaya is an expert in camouflaging unsightly realities, displaying her life to others via the mediation of a screen. Life on the boat is made similarly gauzy, as if seen through a flattering Instagram filter.
Östlund delights in picking off these layers, one by one. At the outset of the cruise, we see Paula (Vicki Berlin), the yacht’s chief of staff, hold a pep talk for her crew of well-scrubbed stewards, all of them white and conventionally attractive. (The mechanics and maids, most of whom seem to be East Asian and Filipino, are lower on the totem pole, and deeper in the ship’s bowels.) They must never refuse a guest’s request, Paula says, no matter how absurd or illegal it might seem. “Try to remind yourself, if everything goes well, at the end of the cruise, you might be getting a very. Generous. Tip!” she cries, as the crew erupts into rhythmic chants of “Money! Money!” Later, Dimitry’s wife, in a show of faux egalitarianism, makes a resistant crew member get into the hot tub, mid-shift. (“Everyone is equal!” she says. “I command you, enjoy the moment!”) The scene brings to mind a crazed Roman emperor settling back to watch his gladiators immolating.’
‘At this point, the movie becomes something of a Brechtian learning play, a thought experiment in what happens when roles are reversed, and power and its signifiers shift. (Crucially, they never disappear.) Much like the chamber theatre of Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” (1924)—whose final scene sees the two protagonists battle in the desert for a sack of money even after their water drains into the sand—in Östlund’s film, Rolex and Patek Philippe are suddenly worth nothing against packets of chips and pretzel sticks. Carl, having once resisted Yaya’s demand to be a kept woman, becomes a kept man, though the stakes on the island are those of bare survival; in this topsy-turvy reality, Abigail (Dolly de Leon), the ship’s Filipino toilet manager, gets to keep him, because her subsistence skills are more valuable than Yaya’s influencer good looks. “In the yacht, toilet manager; here, captain,” Abigail says. The others understand her loud and clear.’
Read the review here.
I must say that I found Brody’s review more convincing, A.O. Scott’s review was even better, as far as criticism goes, but alas, I will see the movie.
What I can say now is that a Brechtian learning play in 2022 is not the same as it was in 1928.
But we all love to confuse nostalgia and critical theory.