Interview with Ruben Östlund, director of Triangle of Sadness, winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes 75, in which class struggle breaks out on a cruise ship. In the hall.
When we were at Cannes 75 we immediately said it: Triangle of Sadness would win the Palme d’Or. Many colleagues were skeptical: Ruben Östlund already won a few years ago, in 2017, with The Square, and, according to some, a movie that makes you laugh so much isn’t serious, so it can’t deal with serious topics by really digging deep. In theaters from October 27, when we then met the director at the Rome Film Fest, where Triangle of Sadness was presented to the Italian public, we immediately told them these two things.
His replies were: “Have you bet any money on winning?” And “I think they have a pole stuck in them and they should get it out!“. Ruben Ostlund he doesn’t send them word, that’s for sure. And in fact it is clear from his film, which he also wrote, in which people from different social backgrounds meet on a cruise ship and the class struggle is triggered.
There’s model and influencer duo, Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean, died prematurely) the Russian tycoon who made his money selling excrement, the heirs of a family that builds weapons. And then the crew, also divided into classes, by the captain, a Woody Harrelson amazing, to the cleaning lady, Abigail (Dolly De Leon). We talked about it with its author, now a Roma fan, given that the producers of the film are Dan and Ryan Friedkin, owners of the Italian football team: “I’m a 100% fan! I used to support Milan for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but now thanks to Dan and Ryan I’m a huge Roma fan“. When we ask him if he would make a film about Ibra, he doesn’t hold back: “But it’s difficult to make a film about him: I don’t know who could play him“. But he, of course!
Triangle of Sadness: Interview with Ruben Östlund
Triangle of Sadness, the review: the shipwreck of society
Triangle of Sadness: “Balenciaga and H&M”
One of the cult scenes of the film is that of “Balenciaga and H&M”. It’s absolutely true: Balenciaga’s advertising is somber and gloomy, while H&M’s is so cheerful. Why do you think expensive means sad and cheap means happy?
Because it defines whether you stand high or low. The luxury of being at the top of the pyramid and doing better than others is what you are selling. I know this thanks to my wife, who is a fashion photographer. She is the one who pointed out to me that the more expensive the brands are, the more the models judge the consumers. And when we consider how the fashion industry is set up it makes perfect sense. He sells us a disguise: we buy a disguise to integrate into our social group.
Triangle of Sadness, analysis of the ending: a world of servants and captains
Speaking of selling: in the film you also talk about capitalism. In capitalism, anyone who can make money has value. Today even big things like equality and climate change are used for profit. If everything can be turned into money and business, how do you find the truth?
The problem is that we live in such an individualistic society that we cannot cooperate. If we look at the Scandinavian countries, like Sweden, we had very good social policies in the 80s, we understood that, by sharing the responsibilities, we would create a good system and a good country. If we lost it and became more and more individualistic, and believed in neoliberalism, anyone can be president, which for me is a myth deeply connected to American society, we would no longer be able to organize. You cannot solve climate change with consumerism. For me the attitude of our times is summed up in the joke of the film: cynicism disguised as optimism. We have to realize that in such an individualistic society we will be very alone.
Triangle of Sadness: “Cynicism masquerading as optimism”
Your film is a work of fiction but today with the nuclear threat, war and pandemic it’s not so improbable that we will all end up like your characters, on an island! If so, what do you think are the most valuable qualities? Not the beauty.
Certainly it would be the practical skills. It’s interesting: if I think about my life I have no practical skills other than making films! I can’t be a gardener, or prepare my own food, anything like that. If you ended up on a desert island, followers on Instagram wouldn’t help. I’d be screwed.
Speaking of profits and art: today we talk a lot about representation. People freak out when they see a mermaid or a black elf. In your opinion, is diversity in cinema important or, as you said, is it cynicism disguised as optimism?
I think representation is very important. I think it’s a way to break the mold. I think odds are very important. I think we should use them to change patterns and structures. An example: if you want to talk about a closed society and highlight how it is linked to skin color, sometimes you have to represent the world as it appears. I made a movie play, in which some boys rob others. It’s inspired by real events that happened in my hometown Gothenburg and the thieves had one thing in common, they were black. All of a sudden I was making a controversial film, with 5 black kids robbing others. When closure and skin color are connected, sometimes you have to create controversial images.
Triangle of Sadness: European cinema vs American cinema
When I was in Cannes I loved your film, I laughed heartily. But some said that if a film makes you laugh so much it’s not serious, so it can’t talk about serious topics. I don’t agree at all. But what would you say to someone who thinks so?
That they have a pole stuck in them and they should get it out! I don’t think they are right. If you look at European cinema, a great example is Lina Wertmüller, who was sharp, funny and very entertaining, in the 60s she was much wilder than today. It’s almost as if we’ve started posturing about very important topics. European cinema has a big problem: when we take state money, we’re fine economically, so we don’t worry about getting to the public. The Americans, on the other hand, must reach out to the public. So my idea was to try to combine the best part of American cinema, the relationship with the public, and the best of the European one, which is questioning society and asking questions. I was inspired by the cinema of Lina Wertmüller and Buñuel.