Robin Ostlund on “The Triangle of Sorrow” – Discussing Marxism on a Luxury Yacht

The House Extension at the 75th Cannes Film Festival: 21 films are in the process of being nominated for the Palme d’Or, including Robin Ostlund’s “Sorrow Triangle.”

The focus is on the couple Yaya and Karl: they’re both models, they both know their beauty is their capital, and they both play it successfully – also on social media. In the second part of the movie, they allow themselves to be invited to a luxury yacht in which many things go wrong.

The film raises questions about the world of fashion and luxury, such as how bodies relate to capital and what capitalism does to the social fabric. In the course of the film, the beautiful veil is torn from the world of the rich and the beautiful, and the Swedish director lets a few frowns peek at him from behind. The location of the premiere in Cannes raises interesting questions at the level of identification.

Presentation of Marxist theory in Cannes

Susan Borg: How fitting it was to you, Mr. Ostlund, that the presentation of the Triangle of Sorrow was here in Cannes of all places, in the epicenter of the yachts, the beautiful, and the wealthy.

Robin Ostlund: The Triangle of Grief takes place in the world of fashion and on a luxury yacht. There are models. They end up on a deserted island and all the old hierarchies are gone and new ones are created: a woman who worked as a cleaner on a yacht is now at the top of the hierarchy because she can fish and light a fire.

It was great that we showed for the first time in Cannes in front of the audience in tuxedos and evening dresses: it was good to put them in a little bit with the film and force them and I to ask questions, topics like hierarchy and discuss transformations, to remember a bit of Marxist theory and to laugh at ourselves too, So it was a choppy ride with the discussion.

System questions instead of character questions

fort: It’s also a movie about a closed system. It is the world of fashion or the world of the rich and the beautiful. The arena was all about the art world. Your characters run in these systems. What interests you in this approach?

Ostlund: We live in a time when we tend to explain all problems in a very individualistic way. People are a problem. That is, if we change the individual by doing something wrong, or if we remove the evil and greedy capitalist at the top, then we can maintain the system.

Societal problems are divided into individuals rather than seeing the context and, in the case of the capitalist, adopting a materialistic perspective. What happens when a billionaire donates all his money to charity? Did this solve the problem? No. We often interpret the world in terms of the rich being selfish and shallow and the poor being generous and spiritual. Of course this is not true.

In the ’60s, there were a lot of movies like Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana that told us, ‘When it comes to class, don’t follow through with such stupid explanations. It is not correct. So I treat my characters fairly.

optimistic view of people

fort: This reminds me of a sentence hanging in the background at the beginning of a typical presentation: “Satire in the form of optimism.” How does your movie relate to this sentence? You may think that you don’t fully believe in optimism.

Ostlund: I do not agree. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been misunderstood. I am a misunderstood artist (laughs). I think this quote “ironic disguised as optimism” says something about our times.

In the advertisements you can see slogans such as “Everyone is equal” or “Stop climate change” and at the same time “Buy our product”. I was really annoyed when I saw how fashion brands use such phrases. In the film I see the behavior of the characters as an example. I don’t see it as my point.

I have a very optimistic view of people. I think we are very interested in creating a just society. In some ways, capitalism has helped us. The film is a feature film inspired by the methods of experimental sociology. I hope people don’t confuse the characters with my point of view.

People in extreme situations

fort: You say it’s a social approach. Your characters are often thrown into a tricky situation, in your movie “Majeure” it’s an avalanche, here’s the luxury yacht accident. When it comes to systems, how do you develop your characters in this context?

Ostlund: This is a good question. Because in the film industry, when you develop a character in the traditional way, you always start with this: he was born into this or that family, and then it happened and a psychological process created the character of the character – a trait that the character in the movie retains in. You may just become a better person.

I want the characters to always relate to the physical setting in which they are moving. For example: You are the main steward on the yacht and are not allowed to say “no” to a guest who wants something. Then it is important why this matter. It is because of the industry’s extreme service spirit. It limits your freedom to work.

This situation defines my characters. In the case of the chief stewardess on the yacht and the question of what happens to her when she lands on the deserted island: does she have the right to decide, is she an opportunist? What are your options?

trilogy about masculinity

fort: It is interesting how Karl and Yaya’s relationship developed. It also includes questions about what a modern relationship might look like: how can a man position himself in today’s society, and how can he act properly? What interests you about masculinity issues in today’s world?

Ostlund: I had already thought with “Fhehere Majeure” and “The Square” that I wanted to make a trilogy that would have the theme of masculinity. It is interesting to compare the male characters in all three films. The main reason I do it is because I am a man. When I write, I like to use situations I’ve experienced myself. The scene where Yaya and Karl argue over who pays the bill is a scene outside my life.

If you go to the Hotel Martinez in Cannes today, you will likely find a 50 euro banknote in the lift. I had a fight with my wife five years ago and got so angry that I stuck a $50 bill in the elevator and yelled, “It’s not about money. I want us to be equal.”

Discussions about Marxism and Capitalism

fort: If you say that the dialogue is often drawn from real life, how else does another very funny scene fit into this framework: the dialogue between the captain on the yacht, played by Woody Harrelson, and a Russian oligarch speaking through the public discourse system of Marxism and discussing capitalism while storm and chaos reign over the yacht.

Ostlund: Yes, Woody Harrelson is a Marxist captain. I come from a family where political discussions have always played a major role. My mother became a socialist and communist in the 1960s. She still sees herself as a communist. My brother is now very right-wing conservative. We always discussed a lot.

Then I read quotes from Ronald Reagan. It is very funny. He said phrases like: “Socialism works only in heaven, where they don’t need it. And in hell where they already have it.” I wanted to use these quotes. When the captain drinks with the Russian oligarch, they throw these quotes at each other and laugh.

It arose in the 1980s when the two ideologies – capitalism and communism – were constantly competing against each other. Until recently, I thought we had transcended this polarization. But since people like to simplify, instead of taking the best of both worlds, it becomes an ideological struggle. The captain and the Russian represent a bit of this situation.

The few and their yachts

fort: Currently, there are geopolitical developments that take another interesting look at the film: the Russian oligarch wants to buy the yacht at a time when many of the yachts of the Russian oligarchs have been confiscated.

Ostlund: Yes, the tragedy of what is happening and how we suddenly begin to see everything from an eastern and western perspective again suddenly made the film just in time. Suddenly we were talking a lot about Russian oligarchs and their yachts. It was important to me not to portray her as unsympathetic. He and the Brit who sells grenades and landmines don’t have to appear to be more ferocious than the other characters.

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