Director Ruben Ostlund on Charlbi Dean death: There’s always a seat that is empty

The director attended the Triangle Of Sadness UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.
The director attended the Triangle Of Sadness UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.

Director Ruben Ostlund has said there is “always a seat that is empty” following the death of Triangle Of Sadness actress Charlbi Dean.

The 32-year-old South African actor and model, who had a breakout role in the film, died from a “sudden unexpected illness in New York” on August 29.

In the film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival in May, Dean and Harris Dickinson play a celebrity fashion model couple on a cruise for the ultra-rich that descends into chaos.

Arriving at the film’s premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on Tuesday, Ostlund told the PA news agency it is “very hard and sad” promoting the film without her.

He said: “This is an ensemble movie and Charlbi was a team player,” adding she took care of both her fellow actors and the crew.

“I’m happy that we got to share Cannes together with her. There is always a seat that is empty when we’re standing on stage when we are doing these things.

“When we have the releases in different countries, it is very sad.”

Speaking about her family, he added: “I hope they are proud of the film. When we are introducing it we very often dedicate it to the memory of Charlbi Dean.”

75th Cannes Film Festival
Charlbi Dean during the 75th Cannes Film Festival (Doug Peters/PA)

It is the first English-language film from Swedish filmmaker Ostlund who won the Palme d’Or this year for the second time, having received the prestigious prize after The Square in 2017.

The Palme d’Or is the highest prize awarded at the Cannes festival and was introduced in 1955 by the festival’s organising committee.

Speaking about the prize, he said: “I was not expecting it, of course. But it was an interesting moment, when you are in this award ceremony and you sit there and you are maybe expecting to get something and prize after prize is going and finally, it’s only one prize left.

“And then you are thinking two things, either we will not get anything or we will get the Palme d’Or.

“There was a slight moment that I felt ‘Do I really want to go through this again?’, but then it happened and then I got very, very, happy.”

75th Cannes Film Festival
Vicki Berlin, Woody Harrelson, Ruben Ostlund, Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson of Triangle Of Sadness in Cannes (Doug Peters/PA)

Ostlund previously directed black comedy Force Majeure, which was released in 2014 to critical acclaim.

The director said his inspiration for this film came after he met his wife eight years ago.

He told PA: “She was working as a fashion photographer and I thought it was really, really interesting how some of the models that she’s working with come from a working-class (background) and without money and education, (and how) they could elevate in closed societies.

“So beauty as a currency was the starting point of the project.”

Ostlund added said he hoped the audience have a “really fun time” and are “entertained” by the film.

“I have said that I want it to be like a entertaining rollercoaster ride for adults. And when I say adults, then I mean also that they should be provoked in some way, that it should be thought-provoking,” he said.

“So something to think about, but at the same time enjoying the moment.

“I think that we live in a time where we’re very focused on the individual, it’s a very individualistic time that we live in.

“We’re explaining everyone’s behaviour from good guy and bad guy. But I think that we have to step back a little bit and look at our actions from the context.

“So it’s actually the situation that creates many of our actions. So it’s a little bit of like a sociological point of view that I want us to be reminded of, and not to put shame on the individual, but rather to have an understanding of the context.”

The director added that filming during Covid was a “stress factor” and was “always hanging over our heads” but he enjoyed it because there was “no room for smaller conflicts.”

Triangle Of Sadness will be released on October 28.