ife for the wealthy is, as this film suggests, on very choppy seas. Behind the unrelenting facade there is a deep vulnerability protected only by the understanding that everyone steadfastly follows the rules — rules that seem arbitrary yet are moored by incentives that keep even the most cynical on board.
The rules in Östlund’s first English language film seem to come in threes, as if to mark the artificial boundaries that maintain social order. Beginning with that expressive area between the eyebrows and the forehead, hence the title, to the distinct classification between guests, management, and service staff, the stability of this world depends on people knowing, and keeping to their place and rank.
The film even unfolds as three separate stories. It starts out with Carl (portrayed with consummate restraint by Dickinson as if he’s forever posing for Vogue) and a group of other camera-ready male models hamming it up before an audition. Carl is navigating a relationship with the equally perpetual model YaYa (Dean), and in the second act the two find themselves on a small, exclusive luxury yacht along with uber wealthy guests, including Russian oligarchs, weapons manufacturers, and others who seem to have nothing else to do.
The ill-advised timing of a social event at sea coincides with an ignored major weather system and a possible case of food poisoning. During the perfect storm, crashing objects, projectile spewing, and superficial attempts to maintain decorum fail to keep the affair buoyant. All the while, howling winds and moans of agony are drowned out by the ship’s PA system transmitting a drunken, but surprisingly lucid debate on Marxism vs. capitalism between Captain Smith (Harrelson) and Dimitry, a manure tycoon played by a delightfully organic Burić.
The third act plays out back on land as one of the servants, Abigail (de Leon, in an effectively subtle performance), adroitly challenges the notion that authority in society is absolute.
Some of the best moments of the film are also some of the most contrived, which maybe is saying something about that level of society. Still, unlike satirical classics such as Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” or Wertmüller’s “Swept Away,” “Triangle of Sadness” doesn’t quite chart new territory.
A nod to Östlund for making the characters seem as two-dimensional and distant as a photo shoot, yet still allowing the audience to observe them rather than be manipulated by them. For that matter, one might wonder what viewers’ triangles of sadness were revealing throughout.