Triangle of Sadness’ — Gallic shrug emoji

Tri­an­gle of Sadness

Tri­an­gle of Sad­ness won Swedish direc­tor Ruben Östlund his sec­ond Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly won in 2017 with The Square. So I was slight­ly per­plexed by the reviews it gar­nered when it was released, which seemed to sug­gest that they’d enjoyed the film, but had remained qui­et­ly under­whelmed by it. 

Sure­ly a clas­sic art house film either daz­zles and bewitch­es, or leaves you shak­ing your head in utter bewil­der­ment at what all the fuss had been about — vide Par­a­site, reviewed here. And yet.

The prob­lem with the film is, in a word, its obvi­ous­ness. It’s not just that its plot is lift­ed from, amongst oth­ers, an episode of The Simp­sons. A group of upstand­ing cit­i­zens get strand­ed on a desert island, and their social hier­ar­chy is turned on its head. Nor even the fact that it takes Östlund the guts of 2 ½ hours to do what The Simp­sons did in 24 min­utes. It’s the fact that the film is sup­posed to be a social satire. 

O Lucky Man!

The tar­gets you’d expect an art house film to be satiris­ing are the sorts of peo­ple who go to, or make, award-win­ing art house films like this. Hence, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (’60), Lind­say Anderson’s O Lucky Man! (’73) and Bunuel’s The Dis­creet Charm of the Bour­geoisie (’72). Tri­an­gle of Sad­ness aims its poi­soned darts at the fash­ion world, and the 0.1% who fund it.

The prob­lem with Östlund goes back to and stems from the suc­cess he enjoyed with his third fea­ture, and his break out film, Force Majeure, from 2014. Which was won­der­ful­ly unset­tling, and looked and felt for all the world like quin­tes­sen­tial art house fodder. 

But it’s obvi­ous from The Square, which was some­thing of a mess, and now this, that Östlund is one of those very com­pe­tent but con­ven­tion­al Hol­ly­wood film mak­ers, who just hap­pens to be work­ing in Europe. In much the same way that the likes of Alan Park­er and Jim Sheri­dan used to do in the past. 

Bunuel’s The Dis­creet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Which is absolute­ly fine. But what it means is that how you respond to Tri­an­gle of Sad­ness will depend on the type of film you’re hop­ing for. If you’re look­ing for a lush, plush and com­plete­ly unchal­leng­ing com­pan­ion piece to The Dev­il Wears Pra­da, that’s beau­ti­ful­ly shot, impec­ca­bly act­ed and whol­ly pre­dictable, then you’re in for a treat. 

But if a duel win­ner of the Palme d’Or cre­ates expec­ta­tions of gen­uine sub­stance, I’m afraid you’re going to be as under­whelmed by its longueurs and as per­plexed by its suc­cess as the rest of us.

You can see the trail­er for Tri­an­gle of Sad­ness here.

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Gilla Band’s new album, Most Normal

Gilla Band, Most Nor­mal

After the tour around their sec­ond album, The Talkies, was put on hia­tus because of the pan­dem­ic, Girl Band found them­selves with less to do and a more than usu­al amount of time to think. 

And they decid­ed that, rather than wait to be picked up by the gen­der police and hauled in front of the court of pub­lic opin­ion, they’d change their name from Girl to Gilla Band. Dis­cre­tion being the bet­ter part of val­our. So this, Most Nor­mal, is the third album from what is now the Gilla Band

Gilla were part of a trio of bands to come out of Dublin in the lat­ter half of the 2010s, the oth­er two being Fontaines D.C. and The Mur­der Cap­i­tal – though the lat­ter are flavoured as much by the Riv­er Lee as they are by the Liffey. 

Each pro­duced a vis­cer­al, indus­tri­alised squall to gut­tur­al lyrics that were declaimed rather than sung, angri­ly decry­ing despair and urban alien­ation. Mur­der Cap­i­tal and Fontaines found imme­di­ate, overnight suc­cess, the for­mer to a man­age­able degree, the lat­ter stratos­pher­i­cal­ly so. But Gilla Band seemed some­how to have got left behind. 

Fontaines D.C. enjoy­ing their success.

First, after being signed to Rough Trade and then releas­ing their first album, Hold­ing Hands With Jamie, in 2015, the band were forced to take their first hia­tus. As their lead singer, Dara Kiely, focused, quite cor­rect­ly, on the men­tal health issues that were threat­en­ing to over­whelm him.

Then, when they even­tu­al­ly got back togeth­er again to release their very good sec­ond album, The Talkies, in 2019, Covid once again put them on hold. But this, it turns out, was a bless­ing in dis­guise. Because it sent them back into the stu­dio, and the result­ing album, Most Nor­mal, is a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward again. And is in fact one of the most excit­ing albums of the year.

The album’s strength come from two quar­ters. First, instead of only pro­duc­ing music that can be played live, they focused instead on using every­thing at their dis­pos­al in the stu­dio to pro­duce the noise they were look­ing for. The result is a sound that’s even more unnerv­ing, and some­how even loud­er and more grat­ing than the one pro­duced on their pre­vi­ous pair of albums. As dis­tor­tion gets processed to pro­duce an even more per­ilous assault on the ears.

What it sounds like at times is that part of the sound­track on a David Lynch film where the sounds are so dis­tort­ed and dis­so­nant, and what you hear is so unset­tling, that you avert your eyes in fear of what’s about to happen.

As to what the album address­es, if the pro­tag­o­nists from CamusThe Stranger or Sartre’s Nau­sea were cat­a­pult­ed into the 21st cen­tu­ry and locked inside a record­ing stu­dio, this is very prob­a­bly what the result­ing album would sound like. 

The Mur­der Capital.

And sec­ond, and as facile as this undoubt­ed­ly is, it’s impos­si­ble not to con­clude that the suc­cess enjoyed by Fontaines and the Mur­der Cap­i­tal has knocked the edges off the songs that they’re now producing. 

Where­as the absence of that suc­cess has ensured that Gilla Band con­tin­ue to be and to sound as angry about being over­looked and ignored by the world they find them­selves in as they were five and six years ago. Not the music busi­ness world, the world in gen­er­al. The real world.

It’s the sound of jump leads, one thrust into a brain, the oth­er into the gut. And as such, it’s glo­ri­ous­ly unmediated. 

The boys from Pitch­fork give it an impressed 8.4 here, and cor­rect­ly point to The Weirds as the stand­out track.

You can see the video for Back­wash, the lead sin­gle, below. Just don’t expect it to chart any time soon.

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2 Things to Watch out for on Irish Television

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, The Laugh­ing Boy

There was a new doc­u­men­tary fea­ture screened recent­ly on TG4, and a 3 part doc­u­men­tary series on RTE, and both were excellent. 

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, or The Laugh­ing Boy tells the unlike­ly if entire­ly true sto­ry behind Bren­dan Behan’s most famous song. After hear­ing about how help­ful Michael Collins had been to his moth­er when she had been preg­nant with him, the teenage Behan penned the Laugh­ing Boy, in Irish, in his honour.

Twen­ty years lat­er, he trans­lat­ed it into Eng­lish and used it as the cen­tre piece for his play, The Hostage. And when that play was then per­formed in Paris, a cou­ple of Greek ex-patri­ots saw it and were deter­mined to stage it in Athens. And they com­mis­sioned Mikis Theodor­akis, the most cel­e­brat­ed Greek com­pos­er of the 20th cen­tu­ry, to pro­vide the music for their production.

Theo Dor­gan, right, on his own per­son­al Greek odyssey.

And, improb­a­bly to say the least, that adap­ta­tion of Behan’s song then became the unof­fi­cial nation­al anthem for Greece, after being tak­en up as the song Greeks sang to protest the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship that ruled there between 1967–74. So, lit­er­al­ly, every sin­gle Greek boy and girl grew up singing it in the 1970s and 80s as a sym­bol of their resistance. 

Direct­ed by Alan Gilse­nan and pre­sent­ed by the poet Theo Dor­gan, it’s one of the few films to actu­al­ly ben­e­fit by not being too rigid in its struc­ture or focus. Instead, the film is left free to wan­der and gen­tly mean­der, as it embraces its sprawl­ing themes. Fus­ing music with poet­ry, film and the­atre, to explore his­to­ry, pol­i­tics and cul­ture, exam­ined and expressed in Irish, Eng­lish and Greek.

Impec­ca­bly realised, it’s a film that, for once, lives up to its lofty ambitions.

The Island is a 3 part doc­u­men­tary series on RTE and the BBC, and it too deliv­ers on its com­mend­able ambi­tions. So many of these sorts of things reveal them­selves to be lit­tle more than thin­ly veiled com­mer­cials for the tourist indus­try. The Island was, impres­sive­ly, very much a sci­ence-led series. 

Liz Bon­nin, on The Island.

This, you feel sure, is down to it being pre­sent­ed by Liz Bon­nin, who is chalk­ing up an impres­sive record in pop­u­lar sci­ence pro­grammes for the BBC. It promised and then duly gave us a 1.8 bil­lion year his­to­ry of the island of Ire­land, with an array of wide-rang­ing  aca­d­e­mics and instruc­tive graph­ics, which were used to clar­i­fy and illu­mi­nate with­out ever over-simplifying.

It still looks rav­ish­ing of course. But for once, the images are giv­en a pur­pose and a context. 

What a joy to be treat­ed like an adult for a few stray hours.

You can see The Laugh­ing Boy on the TG4 play­er here:áireach&series=An%20Buachaill%20Gealgháireach&genre=Faisneis&pcode=622980

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Apple TV’s ‘Severance’ is the real deal

Apple TV’s “Sev­er­ance”

Things have been qui­et of late, in this the much her­ald­ed gold­en age of tele­vi­sion. There has been plen­ty of per­fect­ly watch­able, emi­nent­ly ade­quate fod­der on offer from the var­i­ous stream­ing ser­vices and their ter­res­tri­al brethren. But very lit­tle to write home about. 

So it was with a slight sense of wari­ness that I sat down to watch Sev­er­ance, notwith­stand­ing all the noise it’s gen­er­at­ed. But for once, that hype was entire­ly jus­ti­fied. Hap­pi­ly, it’s the real deal.

It’s a high con­cept, Big Idea series. A nefar­i­ous and implic­it­ly evil tech cor­po­ra­tion has invent­ed a chip that allows you to sep­a­rate, sev­er, your work-you from your home-you. So as you work through the mind­less chores at the face­less office where you work, you’ve no idea what you do or who you are for the rest of the day when you’re at home. 

The same neck of the woods.

As you descend in the ele­va­tor at the end of the day, the chip kicks in, and you step out on to the ground floor as your home-you, or what they call your ‘out­ie’. And after you get back into the ele­va­tor as your out­ie the fol­low­ing morn­ing, you emerge on the ‘sev­er­ance’ floor as your ‘innie’. Com­plete­ly obliv­i­ous as what you might have got up to in between. 

Why would any­body want that? Well, Mark has recent­ly lost his wife in a car crash. And, he fig­ures, at least for 8 hours a day he’ll be spared the bot­tom­less grief he’s floored by dur­ing the oth­er 16.

It’s avowed­ly left of field and off kil­ter, and veers from the sur­re­al­ly mun­dane to men­ac­ing and back, often in the same scene. Think Char­lie Kauf­man meets David Lynch, where both have had their wings clipped to rein their flights of fan­cy in. Which is, respec­tive­ly, both good and bad. 

Every­thing about Sev­er­ance is impec­ca­bly craft­ed. The art direc­tion is pris­tine, the direct­ing, by Ben Stiller, is foot per­fect and the act­ing is excep­tion­al across the board. 

All the gang on the Sev­er­ance floor.

Adam Scott takes the lead as Mark, and is impres­sive­ly abet­ted by Britt Low­er, Zach Cher­ry, John Tur­tur­ro and, improb­a­bly, Christo­pher Walken, all of whom are out­stand­ing as his increas­ing­ly rebel­lious co-work­ers. But Patri­cia Arquette man­ages to some­how steal the show, as the near­est thing to a plau­si­ble and gen­uine­ly ter­ri­fy­ing real­i­sa­tion of the wicked witch of the West. 

And, rather than address­ing them head on, it sen­si­bly flirts around the philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions that it rais­es about the self, pur­pose, mean­ing, work-life bal­ance and agency. Most impres­sive­ly of all, it builds momen­tum and rais­es the stakes con­tin­u­al­ly, thanks to the per­fect­ly met­ed out parcels of sto­ry. And the increas­ing­ly com­pelling cliff-hang­ers that each episode con­cludes with.

It might not quite be up there with series 1 of Twin Peaks, and I hope it does a bet­ter job than that show did of main­tain­ing its momen­tum into series 2. But it’s com­fort­ably the best show to grace our screens since Bojack pur­sued and fed his demons (reviewed ear­li­er by me here).

You can see the trail­er for Sev­er­ance here:

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Destroyer’, starring Nicole Kidman


I missed Destroy­er first time around, when it was released in 2018. Inex­plic­a­bly, so did every­body else, and it grossed just $5 mil­lion, bare­ly half its bud­get. Which is crim­i­nal, as it’s one of the most intel­li­gent and grip­ping thrillers made in the last decade.

The fifth film by Karyn Kusama, it was writ­ten by her hus­band Phil Hay and his writ­ing part­ner Matt Man­fre­di, and is their third col­lab­o­ra­tion together. 

And although her fea­ture debut, Girl­fight (2000), was laud­ed at Sun­dance and Cannes, it fared poor­ly at the box office. As did her next two films, Aeon Flux (‘05) and Jennifer’s Body (’09). So she spent the fol­low­ing 5 or 6 years work­ing as a direc­tor for hire on television. 

Kid­man’s best per­for­mance since To Die For in 1995.

But she went back to the sil­ver screen in 2015 for The Invi­ta­tion, a well-regard­ed hor­ror that had only a lim­it­ed release. But Destroy­er takes her work to a whole new level.

Con­fi­dent­ly plot­ted and impec­ca­bly script­ed, the direc­tion and cin­e­matog­ra­phy are con­stant­ly thought­ful and care­ful­ly chore­o­graphed. Which ought of course to be true for every film, but almost nev­er is. While the twist is low-key, sub­tle and, clev­er­ly, structural.

But the entire film revolves around the vor­tex that is Nicole Kid­man. The grav­i­ta­tion­al pull of her self-destruc­tion seems to drag the whole of Los Ange­les down into the hole she’s hell-bent in bur­row­ing for the grave she’s deter­mined to dig for herself.

Kidman’s a fun­ny one. Her choic­es are actu­al­ly almost always both chal­leng­ing and impres­sive­ly intel­li­gent. But the few duds are so glar­ing, they can be momen­tar­i­ly blind­ing. But real­ly, it’s only The Step­ford Wives (’04), Bewitched (’05) and Aus­tralia (08) that baf­fle. Birth (’04), Mar­got at the Wed­ding (’07) and Nine (’09), for instance, might not work as films, but they were all choic­es and risks worth taking.

This though is com­fort­ably her best per­for­mance, and is the answer she’ll give when St Peter asks her to point to the one thing that could move him to open the pearly gates for her.

Lynne Ram­say’s You Were Nev­er Real­ly Here.

As for Kusama, she pre­sum­ably finds her­self once more at a cross­roads. Hav­ing had her fin­gers burnt try­ing to pro­duce com­mer­cial fod­der for the Hol­ly­wood bean-coun­ters, she was once again offered the chance to get her hands on a siz­able bud­get, for a re-make of Drac­u­la, only to have the project can­celled. So which way does she go now, to the left or to the right?

Does she fol­low the path of Kathryn Bigelow, and trade in her intel­li­gence for dol­lar bills, or that of Lynne Ram­say (whose You Were Nev­er Real­ly Here I reviewed here) and Debra Granick, into the under­growth and uncer­tain­ty of the inde­pen­dent world?

I hope some­body sits her down and forces her to watch repeat­ed view­ings of Zero Dark Thir­ty (’12). There but for the grace of God…

You can see the trail­er for Destroy­er below:

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