DIR/WRI: Ruben Östlund • PRO: Philippe Bober, Erik Hemmendorff, Marie Kjellson • DOP: Fredrik Wenzel • ED: Jacob Secher Schulsinger • MUS: Ola Fløttum • DES: Josefin Åsberg • CAST: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren
With a title like Force Majeure and an extravagant setting like the French Alps you’d expect a relentless action flick a la James Bond or Where Eagles Dare, however,Swedish director Ruben Östlund took another route by utilizing the gargantuan exterior of the Alps and contrasting it to the isolation of one family’s internal dilemma.
The movie opens with tremendous scenery of Les Arcs ski resort complimented by the earth-shattering music of Vivaldi, which creates a sense of impending doom. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Kongsli) and their two young children are a Swedish family on a ski holiday. We follow them as the camera glides down the slopes from behind making it a very smooth watch for the audience.
The family is practical, efficient and appears content like any other Scandinavian family would, but you can tell there is some form of suppressed emotion that is volatile. All it needs is a little push and they get it on the second day. The family is on the deck of a restaurant looking over the slopes, taking a break from their skiing activities, when something extraordinary happens.
They hear a huge bang followed by a controlled avalanche, which is amounting in their direction. The phones and cameras come out to capture the experience, but something is not right. The avalanche is out of control and building faster and faster towards them. Panic ensues. Tomas, amid the chaos, can be seen grabbing his phone and running for his life, while Ebba tries to protect the children.
This is point in the film when Östlund takes an unconventional approach and drives the narrative in a different direction. The avalanche harms no one. Debris from the snow fills the screen for a minute or so and soon settles. Tomas rises like a pussycat from the ashes and returns to his family.
There’s nothing they can do. What’s done is done and they have to live with the fact that Tomas abandoned his family. Naturally, an underlying tension begins to build and build. For some time it looks controlled, but much like their little avalanche it can’t be tamed.
What frustrates Ebba more than Tomas’ fail in his “fight or flight” response is his inability to admit he abandoned his family. In this case Östlund is examining the notion of masculinity and its connotations within marriage and society. Even when the truth is staring Tomas right in the face via video footage, he still argues his view of what occurred. He will abandon his morality before he will relinquish his masculinity.
This profound experience hangs over them creating a subtle tension, which spreads to their friends like some kind of infectious disease. The insecurity of a man fused with relationship mind games is like a Molotov cocktail waiting to blow. And it does so in an awkwardly funny scene when Tomas breaks down in tears in front of his wife and two little kids. The cat’s out of the bag; Tomas does not possess the credentials for society’s definition of masculinity. Can he ever redeem himself?
Visually stunning, bitterly funny and piercingly observant, Force Majeure provides a dark premise that deals with perception and the social expectations of masculinity. John Wayne must be spinning in his grave.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Force Majeure is released 10th April 2015