Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning follow-up to his Palme d’Or winning The Square epitomizes a certain contradiction: he is a director who I wish I didn’t like as much as I do. In its tripartite narrative, which follows the disintegration of a relationship over the course of increasingly absurd circumstances, Triangle of Sadness does, all things considered, have little else on its mind aside from the skewering of the nouveau riche as their environments get turned upside down by machinery, unwelcome workers, and eventually the natural world itself. But while Östlund’s aims are fairly pat, aside from a late-breaking development which productively deepens the complexities of otherwise steadily declining relationships, his skill lies in the actual orchestration of his scenes, and in the touches of comedy that arise from carefully placed running gags. As might be expected from such a scattershot approach, the good and the bad (and the ugly) intermix freely throughout, often in the same scene. Östlund’s spare aesthetic, mostly conveyed in long shot, and his facility with actors as anchoring presences — in The Square Claes Bang; here, Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean, with Dolly de Leon coming to the fore in the last, crucially distended third — helps unite many of these sequences. And on some level, I find such devices as a woman who can only speak one German phrase, the elevation of aerosolized water to a necessary part of survival, and the sight of Woody Harrelson (as the Communist captain of the yacht which serves as the setting of the second act) and a Russian manure baron totally soused, reading Marx quotes back at each other over the intercom as the boat is battered by ocean waves irresistibly funny; your mileage will certainly vary.
George Miller’s return to feature filmmaking after his career’s apotheosis Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) trades that film’s tactility and near-relentless narrative drive for something much more fantastical and circular, with largely mixed results. While Three Thousand Years of Longing takes as its jumping-off point the extended encounter between a narratologist (Tilda Swinton) and the djinn she unwittingly unleashes (Idris Elba), the film moves with uncertainty between their present-day hotel room and the simulacra of ancient times that the genie has experienced. Each of the three stories he tells revolves around the circumstances in which he was imprisoned, feeling free to meander through the massive, beautiful, and uncanny digital structures and the somewhat weaker stories, which vary between the joy of learning and the delight in grotesquerie. It truly is unfortunate that Miller’s worthy but limited effort — by his gleefully maximalist sensibilities that overwhelm the delicate tête-à-tête; by first too little, then too much footage of the present day; by a romance that, while affecting generally and carried out well by the two actors, feels schematic — came out just a year after Memoria. The fear and trembling in the face of the supernatural/extraterrestrial that Swinton conveyed so potently there reappears here in attenuated form; there is even a scene where the djinn acts as a radio receiver for all the noises of the modern world. Three Thousand Years of Longing and Miller himself are best in the moment, in little tricks and teleological progressions, which only inconsistently come to the surface here.