It’s not difficult to imagine mass audiences rooting for “Top Gun: Maverick” or “Avatar: The Way of Water” this awards season. The first goes down easy. The second sports visual spectacle like few others. With 10 nominees, a couple hopefuls are sure to present the opposite effect.
Enter “Triangle of Sadness” and “Women Talking,” two wildly different films tackling social issues in their own ways. When industry folks bemoan a lack of original filmmaking, these two serve as a joint counterpoint subverting pop sensibilities.
Like a scholarly article on a relevant topic, they require more from their audiences, risking the most basic criticism in the process. “It’s so boring,” faceless trolls complain in IMDb comments. But that’s only true, to borrow Master Kenobi’s words, “from a certain point of view.” It’s all about what you plan to get out of a film. And, more importantly, what you consume.
If you spend all day eating sweets chased with pop, your palette loses nuance. That’s an understandable choice considering the limited options earning wide release and the growing desire for comfort movies over the past few years.
And that nuance will likely affect plenty of folks who approach “Triangle” and “Talking” thanks to fresh interest based on their prospective awards status – best pic, director and original screenplay for “Triangle” and best pic and adapted screenplay for “Talking.” Both reside on uneasy ground amongst wide audiences despite industry and critical insider approval.
Let’s start simply enough with the myth that “Triangle” is funny. Perhaps that’s all the candy films talking, but uncomfortable, over-the-top sequences don’t necessarily evoke actual laughter. The billing “dark comedy” rarely invites a physical reaction.
Instead, replace funny with clever, even biting at times. To spend nearly 20 minutes arguing over who should pay the bill at a high-end restaurant sure feels like an audacious piece of dialogue a la “royale with cheese,” but, again, no audible reactions.
The film eventually follows professional models Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) to a cruise ship destined for disaster and a shift in social status. Guests and lower-deckers alike soon face the same dilemma a zombie apocalypse spurs: cooks and builders serve a purpose, influencers and the rich do not.
That all seems promising, but Swedish director Ruben Östlund (“Force Majeure”) tells stories his own way. And that way requires patience and attention. Distracted viewers look elsewhere. But if you stick around, the end might just rock you. In part, “Triangle” is close kin to “Parasite,” brutal commentary, ambiguous conclusion.
Then comes “Women Talking,” a more stressful experience yet somehow more optimistic.
This flick channels “12 Angry Men” as Mennonite women move about confined spaces deliberating. But “Women Talking” has much more pressing goals. Based on a real instance eventually novelized, several women privately convene in a secluded location to determine if they will “do nothing, stay and fight, leave” – the three options they vote on – their community after learning the men have been tranquilizing and raping them.
Some were caught and arrested, so the remaining men have left for two days to arrange bail. Their mandate to the women: prepare to forgive or risk both excommunication and eternal damnation. It’s heavy, beautifully told, from narration style to use of color (sometimes its lack as well), and leads Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley perform wonderfully alongside over a dozen talented supporting players.
But like “Triangle,” it requires commitment from its audience. The film’s minimalism lays bare the subject, the emotional sway of a somber score or Oscar-bait tears replaced with subtlety. It’s incredibly told, mimicking the best bits of stage plays as well.
And let’s talk about the director, Sarah Polley, childhood actor turned auteur. Her writing first earned an Oscar nod in 2008 with the emotionally gutting “Away From Her,” her feature debut as director too. But “Women Talking” is a different beast altogether, stretching a different muscle in its experimental approach.
The Oscar prognosis is dim for both films, a high chance neither earn a single award. Once more, a common theme for all nominees arrives: that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile. “Triangle of Sadness” and “Women Talking” are 2023’s most ostracizing options, intentionally uncomfortable for their own righteous reasons, and that just doesn’t translate into a win. It does, however, translate into worthy viewing at least once.
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