Shipwrecks and reality checks: the films setting out to skewer the rich


Shipwrecks and reality checks: the films setting out to skewer the rich

Stormy waters … Triangle of Sadness.
Stormy waters … Triangle of Sadness. Photograph: Neon/Allstar

Wealth, corruption and immorality are under intense scrutiny in a clutch of films being released this autumn

Ryan Gilbey

Tue 23 Aug 2022 07.00 EDT

At the end of March 2020, the billionaire David Geffen posted images from the Grenadines of Rising Sun, his 454ft, $400m superyacht, accompanied by a message reassuring the world that he was “avoiding the virus” and “hoping everybody is staying safe”. The post resulted in a barrage of replies. One said: “It’s like he wants to be first on the list for when the peasants revolt.” Others, which were accompanied by the hashtag #EatTheRich, forced him to change his Instagram settings to private.

Around the same time, lockdown and quarantine restrictions were interrupting production on Ruben Östlund’s comedy Triangle of Sadness (for UK release on 28 October), in which a luxury yacht captained by a sozzled Marxist (played by Woody Harrelson) is shipwrecked on a desert island. Here, the social order is upended, placing power and agency in the hands of those who were previously lowest on the pecking order; the stinking rich and the disgustingly beautiful (including Harris Dickinson as a frowning model and Charlbi Dean as his influencer girlfriend) are now subject to the whims of the cleaner (Dolly De Leon), who is the only one among them with any survival skills. “Rich people are nice,” says Östlund, who shot the yacht scenes on board the Christina O. “They just don’t want to pay taxes.”

For maximum irony, perhaps Triangle of Sadness needed to be seen amid the opulence of this year’s Cannes film festival, with yachts dotting the horizon beyond the Grand Palais. (The film went on to win the Palme d’Or, just as Östlund’s The Square did in 2017.) But there will be piquancy enough when the picture opens in the UK, just as the cost of living crisis is gearing up for its punishing winter stretch and a clutch of other movies arrive which also exhibit a similar appetite for cutting the wealthy and the powerful down to size.

Prickly class tensions … Nanny. Photograph: AP

The whiff of a class war was already in the air before the pandemic made vivid the disparity between rich and poor: Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, another Palme d’Or winner, scooped the best picture Oscar in early 2020 – just as Geffen was about to set sail, in fact. There are echoes of that film’s prickly class tensions in Nanny (25 November), which was snapped up by Amazon shortly after winning the grand jury prize at Sundance earlier this year. The horror-tinged debut of the writer-director Nikyatu Jusu, it stars Anna Diop as Aisha, a Senegalese au pair caring for the daughter of a wealthy white Manhattan couple (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector) while yearning for her own child back home. An increasingly strained relationship between employers and employee isn’t the only thing which affects Aisha’s mental wellbeing: creatures from west African folklore also begin to surface from her subconscious.

The script emerged from Jusu’s experiences and observations: while at New York University’s graduate film school, she would see “all these Black and brown women pushing white children in pushchairs, and I was curious about that story. My mother did domestic work, so I had the experience of watching her put her dreams to the side to be a peripheral mother in other mothers’ narratives. And I knew that most nanny films centre on the white family.” Not this one.

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu.
Revenge … Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

A different sort of nightmare informs She Said (25 November), Maria Schrader’s film version of Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s book about their New York Times investigation into the allegations of rape and sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. There have been Weinstein-adjacent movies before, including Kitty Green’s The Assistant, but this is the first to name names. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play the journalists, Patricia Clarkson their editor. And there’s an additional frisson in the casting of Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, the ex-assistant to Weinstein who reported her former boss’s conduct in the late 1990s and signed a non-disclosure agreement. After all, Morton has some claim on being the first performer to go on the record about the sort of behaviour that women could expect from Weinstein: it was she who revealed that the producer had blocked her casting in Terry Gilliam’s 2005 film The Brothers Grimm because he didn’t consider her desirable enough.

Wealth, corruption and immorality get it in the neck – well, the gullet – in The Menu (18 November), starring Ralph Fiennes as a celebrity chef whose otherworldly, Instagrammable concoctions double as revenge on their elite consumers. Those sitting down for dinner at his remote island restaurant include Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult and John Leguizamo, while the director Mark Mylod and co-writer Will Tracy know a thing or two about skewering the rich from their time on Succession. Perhaps they could screen the film for Geffen in his personal cinema on board the Rising Sun, with Fiennes there in character to rustle up a pre-film feast. Bon appétit!

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