HASclose his first palmed film at Cannes in 2017, The Square, in which he questioned the world of contemporary art, its relationship to moral values and communication, Swedish director Ruben Östlund was once again awarded the Palme d’Or for his film Triangle of Sadness (Without filter in France). This one features two characters, Carl and Yaya, models and influencers, in three paintings which are as many experimental environments which make it possible to better question their reactions to their environment. The first table shows their ordinary, professional and personal life. The second has them embark as guests aboard a luxury cruise, where they meet different characters, cabin crew or other cruise passengers. And the last shows them stranded with a few others on a supposedly deserted island. A reversal of social positions will then take place: the powerful of yesterday turn out to be powerless with regard to survival in a hostile environment. the Triangle was not really unanimous… Critics regretted a certain psychologism. Or presented it as the work of a falsely subversive reactionary misanthrope. This seems to discredit what makes its specificity, its unity and the questions it raises.
The first scenes take us into the film through the door of the fashion world. To believe that fashion is only a part of reality that the filmmaker seeks to document is to misunderstand the Ariadne’s thread that runs throughout the three experiences that Östlund offers his characters. Fashion, indeed, is here a key to understanding post-modern subjectivity, which they embody in a paradigmatic way. In the first two parts, the value criteria classics », that is to say recognized and used before the 19th century, are abolished in favor of the creation of need. Necessity, usefulness, or even the sacred, are all the expression of needs. From an economy of need, we have moved to an economy of desire — what fashion represents, which must create desire through novelty, via forms that are the product of those that preceded them, and intended to be consumed . Carl, model and main character of the film, finds himself face to face with a fashion designer who asks him to ensure that his outward appearance both manifests his interiority and masks it, by removing the “ triangle of sadness » — the lines that appear between the eyebrows when they are frowning. Interiority must manifest itself only as a form provoking desire, from which the undesirable is banished.
During the cruise, Yaya, his companion, model and influencer, who is also gluten intolerant, is photographed by the latter in front of his pasta dish to post it on social networks. You have to post for posting, arouse the desire to consume (we must not forget that the couple was invited on board the yacht). The French term under which influencers prefer to be presented is, in this respect, revealing. The “ content creators » « create without specifying what they create, precisely because they create to create, with no other end than to create desirable content for those who follow them, regardless of its nature. Certain artists also seem to create to create or have been able to defend such a conception of art, but what they created was not intended to be consumed. The word “ contents is a hollow word that mirrors our time in which fashion has penetrated all fields of the existence of subjects, desiring or desired machines, mechanical desire that mechanically drives that of the other. Östlund’s aesthetic, an aesthetic of the body, is based on the physique of its actors, and in particular of the two main characters — models, they are desired, but they desire the wealth and power possessed by the other passengers, from whom they do not hesitate to take advantage.
Fashion as a mode of existence
On the island, it is the one who has the knowledge who will be the object of desire — Yaya will be offered Champagne in exchange for her company by the wealthy Jorma Björkman, and Carl will sell himself to Abigail. They must therefore make this cruise and their own bodies desirable so that they can access what they themselves desire. But while fashion as a modality of existence of things and of oneself is of the order of the ephemeral, where it is no longer so much the persistence of forms that matters, but rather their birth (because they arouse desire by their novelty), and their death (because it is synonymous with boredom that calls for the new), in Östlund’s cinema, which plays precisely on the notion of time, the scenes last a long time – too long for some —, to the point of instilling discomfort or disgust in the spectator: the self-saturation of the form which is perpetuated while the emotion aroused in the spectator, like the narrative necessity, would demand that it stop, does not call for the novelty but the cessation of all form. Some have seen in the images of the storm a pseudo-subversion aimed at an apathetic bourgeoisie in search of sensations. However, the filmmaker makes last what, on the one hand, is far from arousing desire, and in this escapes the very device of fashion, as if to show, by contrast, the insatiable character of that of his characters, and, on the other hand, what, in its very temporality, is the opposite of that of fashion: length, wasted time, which is never a waste of time. Incidentally, this is not unique to Östlund: The Square was already based on the length of scenes pushed to an excess which made them indigestible as if to put an end to them forever (we think of the performance of the ape-man in the gala dinner organized by the museum of contemporary art for which the protagonist works).
Beyond the absence of value, it is also the absence of purpose, of clear direction that characterizes modernity according to the filmmaker, which the characters of Triangle of Sadness are the mirror. Their desires, like the desires they create, are not the expression of a finality in the first two parts, but only of a desire for movement towards something else, as long as it is other, and that is the movement of desire taken for itself that matters. An example of this characteristic: the cruise takes place on a boat without a captain – we know that the boat is the symbol of a political community, locus Communis, which Östlund takes up. This boat has no captain, or rather it has one, but who prefers to drown in alcohol the loss of his Marxist ideals. The boat is on a quest with no other goal than this very quest, since it no longer has any direction, and this is the very object of the cruise: we are not going towards, we are going to go.
The third part supports this reading. From the economy of modern and post-modern desire, we find ourselves in the economy of need: it is a question of surviving. Carnival reversal, the powerful of yesterday become the dependents of today, the silver of the yacht become the poor in practical experience on the island. It is Abigail, one of the maintenance workers, who takes power over the castaways, who know nothing about survival in the natural environment. And if the mechanics of power does not change, if the exploitation continues despite the inversion of roles and positions, this is not an admission of misanthropy, but an analysis of the depth of the anchoring in us of the law of desire and its creation.
Östlund’s analysis is not pessimistic or darkly cynical, it invites us to think about the question of the reinvention of subjectivity so that what the aporia of Maurice Blanchot called for in writing disaster : “ Optimists write badly (Valéry). But pessimists don’t write. » : hope. We are for the author at a time when we are required to shed our modern conception of the subject, but we fail to do so, just like Carl, Yaya, and Abigail. It is not an analysis of Man that Östlund offers us but of modern man and his way of life, or rather his fashion life.
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