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Oscar spotlight: Ruben Östlund’s ‘Triangle of Sadness’ is a bold, visually arresting directorial feat

In the delightfully brash satire “Triangle of Sadness,” screenwriter Ruben Östlund gave himself the daunting task as director to make the film’s three distinct parts feel unique without sacrificing the cohesiveness of the whole. It is a challenge the first-time Best Director Oscar nominee accomplished with aplomb, as the Best Picture contender takes viewers on an unexpected, visually stunning odyssey of privilege and disaster.

In Part One, Östlund skewers beauty and class as two models Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) have an argument about the bill for a lavish dinner, which unfolds across at least four different locations. The director masterfully captures the claustrophobia of having a disagreement in an enclosed space as his camera pans seamlessly between the two in a cab as they go from restaurant to hotel without ever cutting. He also relieves a lot of that tension when their bickering erupts in the hotel elevator, as Carl’s and Yaya’s points are continuously interrupted by the elevator doors with the actor on one side and actress on another. His vision and camera work heighten this everyday disagreement into arresting moviemaking.

WATCH our exclusive video interview with Oscar nominee Ruben Östlund, ‘Triangle of Sadness’

It is Part Two, “The Yacht,” for which the auteur has received the most notice and acclaim, and rightfully so. The two models embark on a complimentary luxury cruise that goes dreadfully wrong when the yacht hits some incredibly rough seas during the captain’s dinner. What follows is a hilariously outrageous sequence of erupting bodily fluids, as guests suffer from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea as the ship rocks violently.

During an exclusive interview with Gold Derby, Östlund pulled back the curtain on how he managed to capture the bold sequence, revealing that production designer Josefin Åsberg constructed “the interior to a luxury yacht on a gimbal so we could rock it so the furniture starts sliding in the room.” The director shot this sequence over 13 eight-hour days and recounted the effects the constant movement, admitting “even the crew got seasick” because “it’s the same effect on you as if you’re on a yacht in a stormy ocean.”

WATCH our exclusive video interview with Dolly de Leon, ‘Triangle of Sadness’

When the ship is attacked and runs aground on a deserted island to kick off Part Three of the film, Östlund sets off on yet another genre of film, emulating disaster and survival movies. While not the technical marvel of “The Yacht,” “The Island” is perfectly calibrated to examine the class dynamics of this new micro-society. He gives his performers a true spotlight, especially the film’s standout star and BAFTA nominee Dolly de Leon, who plays Abigail, a ship crew member whose survival skills allow her to take control of the group of survivors as their leader. Not only are Abigail’s ascent to head of the hierarchy and the film’s shocking, ambiguous ending well executed, but this last third of the film features some truly beautiful shots, including the survivors shooting off flairs in the pitch dark night, illuminating the island sky in violent red.

Östlund currently ranks fifth in our combined odds for Best Director, trailing the field that includes category frontrunners Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”), Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Todd Field (“TÁR”). Even though his chances of a surprise victory look incredibly slim with the Daniels winning the Directors Guild of America Award — for which he wasn’t even nominated — Östlund, who’s also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, would make for an incredibly worthy spoiler. As it stands, his unexpected nomination on the heels of the film’s Palme d’Or victory at the Cannes Film Festival is especially deserved recognition for a film that showcases his filmmaking prowess.

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