Triangulating melancholy

Soha Hesham , Tuesday 6 Dec 2022

The 15th Panorama of the European Film kicked off last Thursday, Soha Hesham reports

Triangle of Sadness
Triangle of Sadness

Days after the end of the Cairo International Film Festival, the Panorama of the European Film – one of Egypt’s most eagerly awaited cinematic events, organised by Zawya Art House headed by producer and director Marianne Khoury – is celebrating its 15th birthday with a seven-section program: Intimate Chasms, Embodying Performances, To be Seen, Salvation Territories, Clandestine, Underdogs, and Jean-Luc Godard Retrospective.  

The Palme d’Or winning film Triangle of Sadness, directed by Ruben Östlund who also won the Palme d’Or in 2017 for his film The Square, is a satirical extension of his previous works. It opens with an introduction to the ferocity of the modelling world when a male model Carl (Harris Dickinson) has his career on the verge of collapsing after an art director makes a harsh comment about his walk and directs him to release the tension so that the angry expression between his eyebrows will disappear. Carl has a furious fight with his model girlfriend who is also the famous Instagram influencer Yaya (Charlbi Dean) after she expects him to pay the bill at a fancy restaurant, where the shouting match takes a very messy and hilarious turn in the elevator.

After this first part, entitled “Carl and Yaya”, the second and longest part of the film “The Yacht” sees Yaya deciding to appease Carl with a free luxury cruise vacation that she has earned thanks to having millions of followers: an opportunity for Östlund to gather together a whole band of dysfunctional super rich people: an elderly British couple, a German woman suffering from a stroke who can hardly speak, and the captain of the cruise (played by Woody Harrelson) as well as a crew constantly walking on eggshells to ensure the guests remain happy.

For a while, the sun is shining and the couple, Carl and Yaya are sunbathing while the crew clean the machinery beside the pool. One bare chested member of the crew seems to flirt with Yaya, which upsets Carl and the young man is shortly made to leave the cruise altogether. Not long afterwards the couple start to mingle with the other guests, depicted in the most grotesque and cartoonish way. In the poolside bar they showcase their miscellaneous insanities. The cruise climaxes during the captain’s dinner, which starts with the captain not feeling too well and postponing the event for several evenings in a row – when both he and the sea are ready – a storm!

Östlund brilliantly channels the seasickness of his characters, with the camera remaining unsteady as it scans the turbulence through the windows and extravagant seafood and champagne are served while the guests are vomiting – rivers of vomit and faeces bursting all through the luxurious cruise and drowning the privileged guests. At the same time, an explosion causes the ship to capsize. In the third and final sequence “The Island” – in stark contrast to their usual lifestyle – the survivors are stranded on an island where they don’t have enough food or water.

This satirical, surreal film is powerful if somewhat over-the-top in places, and certainly leaves nothing to the viewer’s imagination.

In the To be Seen section, Corsage by the Austrian director Marie Kreutzer – known for The Fatherless (2011) and The Ground Beneath My Feet (2019) – opened the panorama this year. It depicts the life of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria (played by the brilliant Luxembourgish Vicky Krieps) in 1877. The empress is a wild, confused, mysterious, sensual and obsessive character who experiences an impulsive attraction to her riding instructor paralleled by distance from her court and family and her unfaithful husband Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister).

Empress Elizabeth of Austria has been in the limelight this year with the Netflix release of the series The Empress. While the character of Empress Elizabeth has more or less same traits in both productions, in Corsage Kreutzer makes her more interesting in some ways. She is lonely, she smokes, she wears violet gowns and visits hospitals to hand out chocolates and cigarettes, and her daughter is embarrassed by her.

The film portrays her as an irresponsible mother dragging said daughter for horseback riding in the middle of a cold night, leading to the girl falling ill. The empress loves and  spends quality time with her dogs, and she enjoys her different journeys through Europe – which benefit from cinematography of Judith Kaudmann – but she is devastated when her horse has to be put down following a fall.

All through this Elizabeth is following a strict diet in order to fit into her corsage. She obsessively records her measurements and weight on regular basis, targeting 18 inches for her waist measurement due to some officials body-shaming her if she gains weight. Adding to her loneliness, she travels to Vienna in disguise, wearing a dark veil, to spot her husband’s mistress.

At official functions she has to attend formal salons and distressing receptions where she sometimes finds comfort in the bathroom. That is also when she embarrasses her husband by smoking at table and abruptly leaving.

While her ongoing clashes with Emperor Franz are escalating due to both their infidelities, they still share a strong sexual understanding – enough to please each other while avoiding pregnancy.

The film shows how the empress starts to find relief after one physician prescribes heroin to help with her sleep, eating freely, cutting her hair, and dressing differently.

A film about the harsh life of royals, the pressure and the loneliness they suffer in spite of their privileged lives, Corsage is a powerful portrait of a woman in pain.

Vicky Krieps received the Un Certain Regard for Best Performance while the film won the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival as well as Best Film Award at the London Film Festival.

Short link: