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Triangle of Sadness and Rimini: Cinematic giants take on the human condition

With Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness and Ulrich Seidl’s Rimini - Berlin cinemas will see two masters of European cinema take on the absurdity and tragedy of modern life.

Washed up 1980s lounge singer Richie Bravo. Photo: Michael Thomas / © Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion

This month, two giants of European cinema check in on the human condition: Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness and Ulrich Seidl’s Rimini take aim at all things greedy and seedy with varying degrees of success – the former is a freewheeling shot from the hip, while the latter applies surgical precision (but using a poorly sanitised scalpel).

Having now won his second Palme d’Or, Östlund seems to have found his sweet spot, genre-wise. Triangle of Sadness takes up the mantle from his 2017 social satire The Square, and this time it is capital-C Capitalism in the crosshairs – Östlund’s epic film is a flawed odyssey into the cognitive tics of the one percent. It unfolds in a narrative of three acts, with the first act being the strongest – particularly its opening sequence.

Östlund’s epic film is a flawed odyssey… of three acts, with the first act being the strongest

Somewhat reminiscent of early sketches with Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Brüno” character, we meet one of the film’s main characters Carl (Harris Dickinson) as he and an entourage of male models are interviewed pre-audition by a camp TV reporter. In his audition, an art director comments on Carl’s ‘triangle of sadness’: the frowny zone just above his eyebrows, an aesthetic golden ratio of high-end modelling. Later we see him arguing with his model girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) about the selfishness of the gendered expectation that he pick up the bill.

The second act sees the couple on a free luxury cruise, where they are joined by a hateful set of boorish super-rich acquaintances. The film’s architectural centrepiece is this yacht, which operates as a confined meeting place where the hierarchies of wealth can be triangulated. The yacht only functions thanks to the invisible army of workers there – toilet cleaners and cooks who are managed by tyrannous chief steward Paula (Vicky Berlin) and captained by a Marxist seaman mid-meltdown (Woody Harrelson).

Ultimately, Triangle of Sadness falls flat. It is a heavy-handed affair – some of its set-pieces and comic devices are handled with the subtlety of a battering ram. Östlund seems intent on telling us what we already know. Still, it makes for a very entertaining outing, a spectacle best enjoyed on the big screen in a busy movie theater. Perhaps that’s the point? Östlund is undoubtedly a masterful auteur.

A bloated former king gorging on crumbs and rotten leftovers

If Östlund presents us with a grotesque banquet, then Ulrich Seidl’s feature Rimini takes place long after the feast is over, forcing us to watch a bloated former king gorging on crumbs and rotten leftovers. This sordid film explores the pathology of washed up 1980s lounge singer Richie Bravo; it is a haunting character study that revels in the vulgarity of its protagonist via Seidl’s trademark unflinching focus.

In the wintery mise-en-scène of an off-season pensioner package holiday destination, Bravo who inhabits a strange otherworld, is playing threadbare hotel function rooms and clubs for his small but dedicated female fanbase. When he isn’t peddling tacky overpriced merch, our greaseball prince engages in a sinister kind of spectral moonlighting: he returns to hotels for a more intimate experience with his hardcore fans – albeit at a price.

Seidl has a penchant for finding incredible locations, and Rimini resembles an Austro-Italian Blackpool. The winter off-season sees it imbued with a ghostly, synthetic beauty. The shots are breathtaking, mixing the splendour of Peter Greenaway with the stillness of Roy Andersson – it is ambient, lycra and baroque. The atmosphere of post-decadence decay and desperation touches on an undercurrent of something deeper, especially when the film is viewed in light of Seidl’s other work: moments in Rimini expose the wounds that persist in the present and lay bare Europe’s ugly history.

  • Rimini ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Starts Oct 6
  • Triangle of Sadness ★ ★ ★ Starts Oct 13