Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness

If The Guitar Mongoloid (2004) was a satire making fun of plausible lower-class state of affairs, and if Force Majeure (2014) was a satire making fun of plausible middle-class state of affairs, then… well… you can do the math. Perhaps beyond what’s most obvious about Ruben Östlund’s sixth feature-length Triangle of Sadness, aside from its mock of life’s “greatest” financial extravaganzas, is its premise of a lab rat experiment that neutralizes them into the impossible equilibrium that its lucrative characters are made fun of for believing in, harkening all the way back to material like Luis Buñuel’s 1962 bourgeoise-critique classic The Exterminating Angel (1962), which Östlund had even preceded a bit in his last feature The Square (2017). When at the mercy of living, rich or poor, always comes the necessity of the animal.

Winning the Palme d’Or is always infuriatingly tricky because, for one, it sets up distended expectations for a film among a hundred equally worthy choices that won’t come with the burden of its prerequisites, and two, it’s easy to demonize the ones that aren’t saying the most profound things ever said in cinema, and if the controversial reaction to his first win with Square proves anything it’s that Triangle is bound to receive a similar treatment again.

What mother! (2017) is to Darren Aronofsky is essentially what this is to Östlund’s career: you’re there mainly for the ride, the excess of its immersion, and the surface-level schematics are sort of just there as simply blueprint for those opportunities to exist. In theory, we’re all quite familiar with lucky money sometimes buying out adverse experiences and adverse experiences sometimes buying out lucky money in the great scheme of life’s dichotomies for which oscillate given the topical hierarchy that promises the most fail-safe survival, and for fans, so do Östlund’s customary interests in innate masculine x feminine roles and their transgressions amongst even the most pretentiously simulated as “ideal” settings. But damn, if it isn’t just loads of fun to watch those ideas (as redundant as they’ve been done) actually play out by a director who knows how to make use of hyperactive cinematic nauseation and exceptionally drunk-dumb comedic writing that has yet to sink in quality even a little after almost two decades into his ever increasingly inflated career with critical reception.

If anything, seeing the film’s intoxicated bond between an American communist and Russian capitalist is worth the price of admission alone. 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Triangle of Sadness” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s The Square (2017)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part V of V

“I’m really proud that I conquered you.”

After Force Majeure and now The Square, it’s become quite apparent to me that after the clear protruding Andersson and Haneke phases in his earlier work, Ruben Östlund has subsequently transmuted into making rather some of the most original work of this century so far whether you jive with its peculiarities or not. This is a fair, though seemingly bit insecure in if it’s saying enough to the point where sometimes it’ll just say it, examination of social class polarity and congruence that’s not quite at the level of something like his previous feature Play (2011), but one that’s outrageously amplified by how absorbing the otherwise diversely creative and atmospheric scenarios the commentary can find itself in, even when push comes to shove. I can picture all the madness here being more accordingly divided and subsequently comprehensive in the form of a mini-series, cause the catchiness to the film is almost fittingly like an open-ended gallery walk itself — episodic in that regard — taken on by mainly one lead figure who runs back and forth between its different attractions and arguably treats them as so, which makes for an egocentric *yet very human* leading set of eyes to see through. 

As a dark comedy, I think this nails its intentions the most. Watching people in power candidly attempt art on classism as an act of creating change (monetarily and self-righteously) is always going to trigger but also be a reference point to laugh it down by the majority audience, and while its hitting common knowledge clichés that you’d presume come with modern technological liberal media-based business scheming and the behavior of its chairmen, it admittedly runs with them well as if they were gags in a sitcom, and Östlund’s usual erratic character retorting helps fortify them with unsheathing enigma as well. Obviously, you’d hope that the film is self-aware enough nonetheless to notice how this subjugation of supposed depth is mirroring the film’s very existence in a way; it seems partially intentional but, at the same time, Östlund goes to prove there’s a never-ending existential inclination for this realization of the soundless bourgeoise to come full circle in a meaningful way that can make sense of their nature towards the encompassing social pawns which is demonstrated pretty thoroughly in the movie; an ending that doesn’t do this in the most LITERAL way possible by basically giving up for example. This would indicate that even the world-builder doesn’t know what to make of the many pieces he’s assembled here, perhaps an assembly of his own self-image as a matter of fact, which will probably make its cryptic precariousness rightfully come off as pretentious to a plethora of viewers, but I can relate to *and therefore forgive* the dilemma honestly. Art often reveals the mess of us as contradictory and hypocritical as it can get most of the time, and I’ll cheers to hollering at that whether I feel self-deprecative enough to see it or blissfully unaware enough to pretend like I do at the moment.

The Square is also shot to f**king death as goes with an Östlund 2010s picture at this point. Its sound design is everything to boot, and that performance party scene in particular — like a build-off of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962) — is one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed on screen in a while. Actually, I’ll credit the condom scene to that as well. Of course, Elisabeth Moss of any actor also happens to be in it, and not to mention a chimpanzee in the background just cause.

Verdict: B

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“The Square” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure (2014)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part IV of V

If it weren’t for Mats, this movie would’ve been virtually nothing but pain. 

If you’ve ever heard people talk about how it takes no more than a second to ruin a marriage, they ain’t bulls**tting. There are a surplus of factors that are taken for granted, or more so, assumed upon when diving headfirst into the prospect of family. But the reality is, all it takes is one glimpse at a contradiction to something you’d always considered organic, meaning you never really had to question its existence, and you’ll… well… begin questioning it. Gender roles are an essential one: something that warps the more and more our independence to explore philosophical idealism is swelled, but something that will always exist in the back of our minds and far down in our gut so long as we’re human. 

Settings such as a cozy middle-class resort are semblances that convince us of our own security, automatically permitting people to indulge in more societal ethics rather than biological ones, and many have become accustomed to its comforts that program humans with an obliviousness to danger. Yet, the fact of the matter is, whenever the curtains do draw of needing to survive, the biological nature of attraction will lead however much again. Since the beginning of life, protection has been one of the key traits a man is most valued for, and in Force Majeure, its existence, hidden time and time again in the age of today, is exposed brutally.  

So when it happens, a wife’s image of her husband is shattered as if God is seemingly sending signal after signal to indicate that perhaps he’s a chum father and lover. The innocence exhibited by their forgiving children contradicts tragically with their Mother and Father’s interpersonal development as they attempt to mend their quarrel from escalating; they don’t quite understand the deeper impetus behind why his actions are condemned by their Mother in particular, but they understand it could be a dealbreaker for the both of them if they do confront it. The husband experiences a reality check from this breakage of once warm absent-mindedness: despite the security he provides for his family from his financially affluent job, he can still be on the lifeline for having any sort of slip up in his distribution of it, and the gender-based or parental-based reactions from others reaffirm to him more than the ones on the nature of ego that it’s something worthy of being profoundly ashamed of – the independence is unswelling! Thus, the movie is a medley of angles, and the often tense atmosphere Ruben Östlund masters here is able to magnify them as we pivot from each evolving character perspective.

Towards the final act, Force Majure then becomes a reclaiming of masculinity comedy. Proving you’re a traditional man may still be a requirement even in this day in age, but in bourgeois living conditions, maybe not as much as in the days of say Alexander the Great. The film has a marvelously bittersweet method of resolving it all, though mended with concernable pity, it restores the family image even so as something like a darkly waggish Homer Simpson kind of exemplum would promote.

Verdict: A-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Force Majeure” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Play (2011)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part III of V

“Be honest and tell Mum and Dad what happened.”

In just the opening scene, you can tell Ruben Östlund is helming this from the work of Michael Haneke. Play plays *not intended* some real-life Funny Games (1997) with not only the psychological infliction and torture its characters embark on, but the emotional and moral conflict it puts you as a viewer through, now presented via concrete plausibilities involving race however, and not Haneke’s guilt-tripping consumption of staged violence. One way or another, you’ll be triggered by it.

Between the pivotal characters awaits a glimpse into tribal mentality. The victims, for example, criticize their friend for trying to walk out of a frankly hostile situation, as if the gesture is impolite, selfish, or perhaps an ethical betrayal to both them and the robbers who they’ve developed Stockholm syndrome for. Clans will pressure collective suffering to suggest disbandment as the consequence of avoiding it. Then there are the sly robbers, on the other hand, one who even guilt-trips the white (and the token Asian) kids by telling them, “anybody dumb enough to show their phone to five black guys has only themselves to blame.” Fact of the matter: everybody here is indulging in racial stereotypes that have instituted this negative altercation whether ill-intended or not. Previously, two of the kids even beat up their friend for opting out of continuing the unusual robbing and discharge him from the group. It’s as if shame is not only brought upon people who do not believe in the “labels”, but also brought upon people who do not live up to their “labels”.

Occasionally, Play will also be in the company of white side characters who relish in the culture of foreigners but at the same time remote to hearing their struggles out. Funny how the poor in this are seen as material “thieves”, and the financially stable are pardoned for any other form of it. Low-income creates criminals, low-income selection is often a byproduct of racism, particular groups of color are then labeled, thus everybody begins to apply negative biases on races even if they’re directed at themselves. But then again, there are also the high-income whites who’ll try to compensate for it with liberal excess, and some low-income minorities are willing to take advantage of that, but subsequently the other high-income whites will REALLY take advantage of it as a method of gaining more control — having the gall to illegally harass a child physically is one thing, but there’s so much more to the idea in which the film proposes from this incident that’ll get audiences thinking.

Suffice it to say, it’s an infuriatingly anti-wing film that wants you to struggle siding. I’m sure it’s especially meant to challenge those in position of a clear wing nonetheless, but anyone on the political spectrum in general will probably face internal conflict enduring the material here regardless.

*at least as an American, I know for the majority of us it’s going to be DENIAL*

One thing is for certain nonetheless: the presentation of it all is f**king elaborate. On top of its feasible personas — this time though relying on primarily child actors —, Östlund has surpassed the frozen still shot with sparing transitional camera movements (sometimes ones that appear automated or Ken-Burns-esc to replicate a bystander POV) and lens focusing that reminded me of how much blocking can feel like a magic trick. Even amidst the manipulative ambition Play has, you can’t deny it executes such with an iron fist.

Verdict: B+

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Play” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary (2008)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part II of V

Essentially round two of The Guitar Mongoloid but with more coherent themes linked between the multiple ongoing incidents. Much to its name, Involuntary is about how we maneuver observation: the silence of observation, the withholding of observation, the coping of observation, handling release of information from observation, affirming what we’ve observed into the reality of others – despite social jeopardy – as perhaps an intrinsic way of affirming it into our own. It’s then only fitting that Ruben Östlund continues to utilize his Peeping Tom compositions throughout, limiting visual boundaries as an atmospheric emulation of our innate pining to disinter closure.

Also, no wonder the bus driver’s wife divorced him so heinously. Supreme foreshadowing! 

Verdict: B-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Involuntary” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s The Guitar Mongoloid (2004)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part I of V

Ruben Östlund’s directorial debut is less so an overarching anthological narrative and more so a starter pack of scenes collected overtime, meant for demonstrating the filmmaker’s competence in constructing absurd human instances that fail to contradict though with how genuine and based in reality they seem because of their felicitously maladroit nature – don’t let that made-up town name it takes place in throw you off. Sure, it’s gimmicky with little return in sum, essentially a series of *somewhat* random slice-of-life moments that may or may not emit value individually depending on the viewer, yet it’s quite enjoyable when they do achieve their intended charm. It has a lo-fi Roy Andersson sensibility to it as well, abiding by the “still shot per scene” rule.

Verdict: B-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“The Guitar Mongoloid” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild (1990)

Screened at The Roxie Theater

“I said I’d never be able to tell which woman I loved the most until the end. I wonder what she’s doing now.”

You can feel the humidity fuming off the screen in Days of Being Wild, permeating into the lungs of its on-and-off stragglers, stifling them in a box that’s paralyzed them into such an unsatisfactory tolerance for durability of said climate. Wong Kar-wai’s second feature-length is demonstrating some serious talent when it comes to a replication of environment to characters, a visual mood board of concentrated emotions for which he will very well become known as a master at. 

Given that I watched this after In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004), it’s interesting to see him precede two things: f**kbois and who-hurt-you?s Yuddy is like Chow Mo-Wan, without an exposed memory of a one true-love — maybe some mommy issues howbeit — and yet it’s ironic to see Su Li-Zhen come into the picture in the midst of a heedless precursor to who she’d later help create herself. But it says a lot, because you can tell this is an origin story to her for men, which inadvertently inspires another Yuddy for which inspired her. Awe, the circle of love. 2046 is just the day the who-hurt-you? synthesized with the f**kboi to make one mildly enigmatic Yuddy, who by that third movie though, became completely debunked via “final form” Mo-Wan unlike how he is here in this first of the trilogy. I guess it was a duel between the Oedipus complex and another difficult woman made to be that way by a difficult man all along. At last, I’ve completed the puzzle!

Also, Tony Leung’s Thanos introduction. 💀

Verdict: A-

Wong Kar-wai Ranked

“Days of Being Wild” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Ti West’s Pearl

My new worst nightmare is growing up to be Pearl’s father. 

“Make the best of what you have” is usually the kind of mindset that happens when dreams are crushed. Isn’t it just hilarious that we live to overcome current control in order to be controlled by rather dreamt circumstances? Our freedom still remains a delusion.

With only a little over four months to spare since the release of its predecessor, the artificial technicolor prequel to X (2022) has already made its way to the big screen, and while this origin story is quite conventional on paper when it comes to bleak rise to fame narratives — the classic Mulholland Drive (2001) to put it otherwise —, Ti West’s exercise of the familiar is nevertheless an exotic force in its own rights. Likely, this prequel’s function is to either parallel in a despairing manner or paradox for means of a less awaited existence at what Maxine’s rise to fame story will be in the sequel to X, considering she has yet to wake up out of her “fantasy”. For now though, we have a methodically paced origin to the making of a slasher villain keeping us at bay. 

Mia Goth’s performance in Pearl alone is worth the price of admission. Next to Anna Cobb, we have been getting some seriously stressful embodiments of unhinged youngsters who are just dying to fit in. However, perhaps the most commendable aspect regarding the prequel is how much it differs from X, taking on less of an accumulating thrill factor plot structure and more of an apprehensive consistency that permeates throughout. It’s a slick series of scenarios where you’re regularly on edge for someone to not upset Pearl’s delusion to be loved for superficial *barbie-doll* stardom, or at the bare minimum, a mentally sane personality she simply does not possess – she’s special alright! But oh, isn’t it just so bittersweet once we’ve alas accepted the reality of our circumstances? Our projecting should stop there and then? Right?

Now onto the 80s…

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Pearl” is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream

David Bowie is the greatest musician of the 20th century who got to live long in the limelight. There is something about the film industry’s recent agenda for live-action classic rock biopics, from the falsified Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) to the sensationalized Elvis (2022), that lack a psyche into their respected artists. While the documentary Moonage Daydream falls in line with having eager leverage of musical nostalgia which chiefly produced those two movies’ draw, it is, however, also prioritized in sampling Bowie’s philosophical ethos, the partner core towards his sonic innovation for which made him a legend in the field. In fact, it’s the sole voice the film actually allows to speak aside from a few captured fan interviews. Many want to uncover the mystery left of him, sure, but we should moreover let the pieces that could solve such speak for themselves in defining the character which he had created from the recorded self instead of forcing it all to come together at the sacrifice of truth. Perhaps simply sharing the amount of direct information we do have is the most courteous method for what should be tapped into with the case of fallen artists. 

Though, if I’m being completely blunt, this documentary essentially felt like a more intensely edited and extended — 135 minutes to be precise — version of those YouTube video tributes that are content-swelled these days on celebrities, but as a senseless idolizer of this Moonman as both an entertainer and foremost an intellectual, I still indulged in it shamelessly.

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked

“Moonage Daydream” will be released in IMAX theaters September 16th.

Quick-Thoughts: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

“I hate people like that that know everything; they just always are like: ‘Well, no, this is how it is. Who are you to tell me how it is?’”

So I guess two David Cronenberg movies came out this year. 

People habitually mislead themselves with documented “acts” that insight change so that they don’t have to put in the effort to actually change, or at least change with perceptive reason. The internet manufactures so many faulty, theatrical solutions made for lazy finger-tip consumption that quickly fill undefined voids temporarily. It’s safe to say that we, more than ever before, subconsciously want the media to be in charge of controlling our body and mind. We want to give up that responsibility to excess information no matter their sources — trend-approval is sometimes helpful nonetheless. We want contortion from something that is ironically unphysical. 

Most people compulsively online are living in a dream right now, where everything in you conveniently feels like it’s drastically changing, when really, nothing is until your eventual recognition of this dependency that’s, however, always just momentary till the next loop. The contemplative reality here is, as time and media populate, more and more people become okay with dreaming forever. They are looking predominantly there for a ticket to the world, when it’s just the world’s fair: new realities that we interpret as accurate projections of what’s going on or about to go on in the old. 

Problem is, so many of the ones we indulge in at some point are left incomplete to our knowledge. We become lost in their systems as just another string of alphanumerics that could vanish without question or return without even seeming as if we’d left to most. There is an underlying privilege or curse to these realities that in a way, condition us to death and rebirth at a far faster rate than just real life’s. Data on us becomes more permanent the more we self-produce our image, but not often are they met with recordings of us as regular people as much as they are celebrity concepts stemmed from the imagination, or at least that’s what it seems like considering this virtual barrier is really another facade that stretches our ability to determine the individual than from face-to-face — screen-to-screen is simply an extra layer(s) away from it given that it constitutes further complexion, and, if we’re assuming, further confusion of the self, not to mention some quite literal distance. There is so much more fabricated individualism when residing online than outside, like you in a dream. 

It’s funny though because even our lead character mentions how self-aware she is about these “acts”, but the fact of the matter is it’s clearly not enough to stop her from feeding it, and therefore, giving into its sovereignty over her actions. Video publication and self-contrived appearances are a one-of-a-kind convenient outlet to deal with permanent isolation, to diagnose ourselves from having to wake up from its draw. Like any new form of adapted society though, we grow to hate its mechanics in intervals, and every so often, seek to leave it but only for a little while since its hold has become much too alluring to ever leave it for good. 

So kinda like a modern update of Benny’s Video (1992). There aren’t a ton of scares in this, but the few that it does feature are pretty clever. And Anna Cobb is creepy ASF. 

Theo Anthony cameo was hard.

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is now available to stream on HBO Max.