Tag: Iris Berben

Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Östlund’s super-rich satire lines up straight-forward targets to easily knock down

Director: Ruben Östlund

Cast: Harris Dickinson (Carl), Charlbi Dean (Yaya), Dolly de Leon (Abigail), Zlatko Burić (Dimitry), Iris Berben (Therese), Vicki Berlin (Paula), Henrik Dorsin (Jarmo), Woody Harrelson (Captain Thomas Smith), Alicia Eriksson (Alicia), Jean-Christophe Folly (Nelson), Amanda Walker (Clementine), Oliver Ford Davies (Winston), Sunnyi Melles (Vera)

In my review of The Square, Östlund’s previous Palme d’Or winner, I described its targets as “so obvious, the entire film might as well be footage of fish being shot in barrels”. If only I’d known: Triangle of Sadness, his satire on the super-rich, takes this to the Nth degree: it’s an entire film of Östlund spraying machine gun bullets into an aquarium of drugged fish. That’s not to say there ain’t good jokes in here and several of its sequences are cheeky, engaging and funny. It’s well-made and high quality: but it’s also obvious and is in a such a rush to make its oh-so-clever satirical points that it frequently blunts its own impact.

The film revolves around a luxury cruise liner. On board: the self-obsessed, selfish, greedy representatives of the world’s oligarchs. A Russian who repeatedly amuses himself by bragging that he sells “shit” (fertiliser), a Danish app builder who splashes his cash, a married couple of British arms-traders who jovially bemoan how UN restriction on landmines made for tough financial years… you get the idea. Also on board: Instagram influencer supermodel Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and her insecure male model boyfriend Carl (Harris Dickinson). All of them treat the staff like slaves. But when the ship sinks after a storm and an attack by Somali pirates, the surviving passengers find they entirely lack the skills needed to survive on an island, unlike toilet-cleaner Abigail (Dolly de Leon) who rockets from the bottom to the top of the social hierarchy.

Östlund’s film lays into the emptiness, greed and selfishness of the super-rich with glee, even if it hardly tells us anything we don’t already know. The rich are only interested in their own needs and can only see others as tools for their own pleasure: who knew? Wanting to expand his satirical targets even further, Östlund also takes a pop at the social media generation. Apparently, they are shallow and interested only in commodifying their own lives. Who knew? It’s the sort of stuff that makes for a punchy student revue, but you want something a little bit more challenging that moves above cheap shots from a Palme d’Or winner.

In many ways the film’s most interesting section (and most subtle ideas) take place before we even reach the boat. The film’s first chapter exclusively follows Carl and Yaya. Carl auditions for a modelling job where he’s treated like a piece of meat (hilariously they mutter about him needing botox). At a fashion show, staff pleasantly demand three people move out of their seats to make way for VIPS – who immediately ask for one more seat. Everyone shuffles along one (the camera following this with a neat tracking shot), leaving Carl seatless. This is a more subtle commentary on the self-obsessive focus of the super-rich than anything that follows.

Carl and Yaya are in an interesting position: they are both part of the beautiful super-rich and not (they don’t have any money). That early act opener balloons from a disagreement over who pays for a meal into Carl inarticulately arguing for sexual-equality and mutual partnerships that defy gender roles. It’s more interesting than almost anything that follows, because it’s multi-layered and raises genuine issues we all face (to varying degrees).

But the film abandons multi-layered the second it steps foot on the boat. There are fun set pieces. Carl unwittingly gets a pool attendant fired because he’s jealous of Yaya’s admiration for his topless body. The staff on the boat gee themselves up for days of enthusiastic deference with a tip-expectant-group-chant. A Russian lady demands the staff all swim in the sea so they can have as much fun as she is having (and to show how ‘normal’ she is). The film’s most infamous set-piece occurs as a storm coincides with the captain’s dinner (with the fish courses under-cooked due to the aforementioned obligatory staff swim) leading to nearly all the passengers projectile vomiting across the state room, then sliding around the floors of the swaying ship in their own filth.

Amusing as that can be in its guignol excess, it tells you how subtle the film is. The film is awash with obvious, lazy jokes – of course the polite arms trading couple are called Winston and Clementine! To hammer home the social issues the film whacks us over the head with, the Captain (an awkward performance from Woody Harrelson) an alcoholic Marxist spends the storm pissed in his cabin, reading Noam Chomsky and his own anti-capitalist ravings over the ship’s tannoy. This takes up a huge amount of screen-time and manages to be both obvious and not very funny.

The film enjoys taking these pot-shots so much, it ends up feeling rushed when we arrive at the island. If we had seen more of Dolly de Leon’s Abigail earlier in the film (in actuality, the film sidelines her as much as the characters do, barely allowing her more than a minute of screentime in its first hour), the shift in social hierarchy would have carried more impact. If Östlund’s film had more patience to show the passengers expectation that shipwrecked life would be identical to that on the boat, then Abigail taking charge after a few days that would have carried more impact. Instead, Abigail takes command from arrival, and then essentially behaves (in a way I’m not sure the film quite understands) with exactly the same self-entitled greed as the passengers did. She takes the best cabin, establishes a hierarchy, keeps most of the food and turns Carl into a sex toy.

Because we’ve not really seen Abigail earlier in the film, we don’t get a sense of her earlier mistreatment (really, most of the film would have been better told from her point-of-view) or join her satisfaction at the tables being turned. The film also exhausts its commentary on the super-rich leaving it with little to say about in its third act Lord of the Flies set-up. Instead, the film dawdles its way to a conclusion and cliffhanger ending that feels unearned.

It makes you regret the loss of its earlier more subtle commentary on Instagrammers Carl and Yaya (good performances from Harris Dickinson and the tragically late Charlbi Dean) who are drowning-not-waving in a world where they must commodify their bodies but have no power over them, struggling to work-out where they fit in a world. It throws this overboard to go for some (admittedly at times funny) gags about greed and very obvious social commentary. If it had committed to its social underclass uprising earlier – or carried on with its more subtle themes from the opening prologue – it would have been a better film. Instead it’s as subtle and probing as the faceful of vomit it serves up halfway through.

Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Some more comic escapades in the not-really-true-at-all film of Eddie the Eagle’s life

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton (‘Eddie’ Edwards), Hugh Jackman (Bronson Peary), Iris Berben (Petra), Keith Allen (Terry Edwards), Jo Hartley (Janette Edwards), Tim McInnerny (Dustin Target), Mark Benton (Richmond), Jim Broadbent (BBC Commentator), Christopher Walken (Warren Sharp), Rune Temte (Bjørn), Edvin Endre (Matti Nykänen)

Watching Eddie the Eagle, it’s interesting to think that Edwards was ahead of his time. An unqualified ski jumper with a certain natural talent and a lot of dedication, his unspun, naïve enthusiasm effectively made him a perfect YouTube sensation, 15 years before that term existed. His joyous reactions and “just pleased to be here” manner while coming last in two ski-jumping competitions at the Olympics meant the public couldn’t get enough of him (then or now it seems) and he’s probably about the only thing anyone can really remember about the 1988 Winter Olympics.

I found my heart completely unwarmed by this lamely predictable film, a virtual remake of Cool Runnings and Rocky, which can barely move from scene to scene without tripping over clichés. In other sports films, the snobbery against the underdog feels unjust because we know they deserve to be there. Edwards doesn’t deserve to be there, and doesn’t prove himself anything other than a brave novelty act. Perverse as it sounds, the one area where the film deviates from its predictable formula is the part that makes everything else not really work.

It’s not a particularly funny film. That may be partly because every single comic beat in it is taken from somewhere else, but joke after joke falls flat. Scenes meander towards limp conclusions that can be seen coming a mile off. Every single character is either a cliché, mildly annoying or both. Jackman strolls through the film barely trying. Taron Egerton plays Eddie as virtually a man child, a naïve mummy’s boy, an innocent in the world of men, curiously sexless, but a cheery enthusiast with a never-say-never attitude. However, I often found him less endearing and more mildly irritating.

Virtually nothing in the film is actually true. This doesn’t necessarily matter, but I felt it made the film slightly dishonest. It leaves us with the impression Edwards was set to go on to success in his career – he wasn’t. It doesn’t mention the Olympic committee changed the rules to prevent amateurs taking part in this highly dangerous sport at this level. It doesn’t even begin to mention that almost the entire cast are invented supporting characters, or that many of the real characters (such as Edwards’ father) have had their personalities totally reimagined.

It also reshuffles the truth to make Edwards seem far more incompetent and unlikely than he actually was. In reality an accomplished amateur athlete and skier who just missed the Olympic team, he’s here reinvented as a barely proficient, uncoordinated klutz, a buffoon on skis. Egerton’s otherworldly naivety (at times his childish outlook on the world borders on the mentally deficient) is to be honest rather grating. By hammering up his ineptitude, it’s hard to really think that he should be clinging to these dreams that he’s not suited to perform.

Channel 4 run a TV reality ski-jump show called The Jump. Several celebrities who have taken part in it have suffered serious injuries. With that in mind, is it really wrong to wonder if a sport isn’t right in saying “the unqualified and the amateur shouldn’t be attempting this”? Yes the Olympics is partly about competing in the right manner – but shouldn’t that mean also protecting people from themselves?

The one slightly brave move the film makes is to briefly toy with the idea that Edwards is fundamentally misguided. Before the Olympics begins, his trainer pleads with him to continue his training, wait four years and qualify as a proper athlete rather than a novelty, to have a future of several Olympics rather than cheating into one. Edwards (and the film) ignores him, but I found I was thinking “you know what, he’s right”. The film never manages to remove from Edwards the whiff of the joke act.

I’ve been incredibly hard on this film – it’s not like it’s trying to do anything serious or meaningful. It just wants to tell a nice story about a nice guy. It prides itself on being a bland formulaic piece of film making. But I didn’t find it moving or heartwarming and I didn’t warm to Edwards. I admire his determination, but he’s like those deluded singers chasing their dream on X Factor. The characterisation of Edwards makes him hard to relate to and his final “success” doesn’t mean anything as the film never escapes the feeling that he is being laughed at rather than with. Add the fundamental dishonesty of the film and I found it really unsatisfying.

Give it a miss. Watch Cool Runnings instead. That’s full of invention too of course, but the invention is truer to the facts and the spirit of the truth, and the film itself is far funnier and more satisfying than this one.