Ok Cannes, now we’re talking.
As we near the halfway mark of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, it’s fair to say that the first stretch of the competition has been disappointing, to put it politely, featuring a number of duds and at least one THE LAST FACE-level fiasco (which we shall not name in the spirit of kindness). Which makes it all the more exciting that two bona fide Palme d’Or contenders from previous Cannes winners premiered back to back today, adding some much needed heat to the race.
With TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, Swedish director Ruben Östlund delivers another social satire in the same vein as FORCE MAJEURE and Palme d’Or winner THE SQUARE. It’s hilariously funny and fiercely provocative, serving up critique of the capitalist caste system with great farcical force. Might benefit from some trimming, especially in the last hour, but overall the level of creativity at work here is undeniable. Brought the house down at the screening I attended.
The first of the screenplay’s three chapters introduces us to Carl and Yaya, two young hot models with the type of perfectly sculpted bodies to stand out in a sea of perfectly sculpted bodies. A faux pas involving the dinner bill leads the couple to have an extended argument about everything from gender roles to manipulation in their relationship. This segment is not closely related to the rest of the film but works well as a prologue that gives you a taste of the kind of people that will be featured. Chapter two is set on a luxury yacht where a sample of the world’s extreme rich and privileged (including the model couple) is vacationing. Because of the captain’s alcohol problems, the guests are mistakenly invited to dinner on a rough night at sea and all hell breaks loose.
I loved FORCE MAJEURE but was not entirely on board with THE SQUARE because I felt Östlund piled on too much excess around a brilliant central premise. It seems that he was consciously trying to put every single good idea that ever came to him into that film. To a lesser degree this also happens with TRIANGLE OF SADNESS. The script goes off on tangents or develops in directions that in my mind rather diminish its impact. Having said that, when it works, this thing is a beast. This applies especially to the mid-section of the film, which is rich, observant, biting, outrageous – satirical comedy at its finest. The last section of the film provides an inspired extension of what goes down on the yacht, but I do wish Östlund had reined it in a little more. This ending in its final, slightly overblown form still offers plenty of kicks though.
DP Fredrik Wenzel should be singled out for lensing some gorgeous, instantly memorable images. Of the diverse and talented ensemble cast, Zlatko Buric is MVP in my mind. His turn as an anti-communist Russian tycoon is laugh-out-loud funny.
On the other end of the fun scale is R.M.N. by Romanian director and fellow Palme d’Or winner (4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS) Cristian Mungiu, a cryptic, sobering drama that investigates the start of xenophobia. Set in rural Transylvania, it follows the chain of events set off by the employment of three Sri Lankan workers by a local company.
The film’s theme isn’t immediately apparent, as Mungiu spends quite a bit of time establishing the story’s setting – a close-knit, multiethnic, religious community in which everybody pretty much knows everybody. By means of the creepily effective opening scene, however, he makes sure you know from the get-go that whatever’s bubbling beneath the surface ain’t friendly. This sense of foreboding and anonymous tension intensify after the arrival of the migrant workers, and soon all civility and basic decency will be eaten by the fear of the unknown.
I’d be the first to admit that I did not get every aspect of the depicted dynamics between the local residents. It’s a densely written script that weaves together the backgrounds and beliefs of the characters and I likely missed some of these, but the skill with which it approaches the subject matter is easily recognizable. Ever the critical observer of socio-political issues, Mungiu writes with scholarly meticulousness and captures the rot of the human mind when it comes to questions of us/them. There’s a 20-min scene set at the local town hall towards the film’s end that shockingly reflects the spectrum of opinions on this subject. As one unbroken, static shot, it’s amazing how they pulled off such a dialogue-heavy scene this way, a breathtaking achievement in screenwriting and directing.
Our world is a pretty effed-up place, and I think we can all agree to be thankful that from Scandinavia to Transylvania, talented filmmakers are addressing all that’s not right with dramas, comedies and everything in between.