FILM REVIEW: Force Majeure

Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, 2014)

I’m sure everyone would like to think that they would be a hero in a disaster situation, but sometimes the gut instinct is to get the hell out of there and to hell with anyone else. Unfortunately, this is how Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) reacts in the face of an oncoming avalanche on a family skiing holiday to the French Alps, leaving his wife and two children to fend for themselves. Dick move, Tomas.

Uh-oh...
Uh-oh…

So begins this relationship drama, which focuses on the fall-out. Everyone is physically okay, but Tomas’ role as the family patriarch is called into question. His marriage with Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) is on the brink, and the effect on their children Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren) is evident. Despite their age, they are all too aware of the seriousness of their parents’ whispered conversations in hotel hallways.

Vincent & Clara Wettergren (on screen and off)
Vincent & Clara Wettergren (siblings on screen and off)

Force Majeure is what The Loneliest Planet wanted to be. It revolves around a split second decision with major consequences. It uses long shots that are close to being tedious, but aren’t, because the detail within them has power. It pays attention to its glorious scenery. It involves light and dark. But unlike The Loneliest Planet, is isn’t mind-numbingly boring, there is a point to it, and the characters actually have conversations about the cause of their conflict! WHAT A REVELATION! There are plenty of arty-farty pieces of crap that could learn a lot from this Swedish work.

Family fun times!
Family fun times!

A classical musical motif is replayed throughout various parts of the film which works nicely to remind us of the ongoing tension, and there are some clever little tricks such as a deeply serious scene being suddenly interrupted in an unexpected way. There is a good dose of humour injected into the screenplay, though it is subtler than the man two seats down from me would have led you to believe. Are some people just so desperate for everyone else to know that they get the humour? It’s not walrus-laugh-inducing stuff (unless you’re that guy) but it does raise a few appreciative smirks and maybe even some light tittering.

Fanni Metelius, Clara Wettergren, Kirstofer Hivju, & Johannes Kuhnke
Fanni Metelius, Clara Wettergren, Kirstofer Hivju, & Johannes Kuhnke

The interactions within the family felt very genuine, including the awkward silences. We bear witness to the more mundane parts of their day, including numerous bathroom scenes. I do hope I’m never in one of those relationships where you pee while your partner brushes their teeth. KEEP SOME MYSTERY ALIVE! But then perhaps this was meant to juxtapose with their inability to be open about the more important things in their relationship. Or to show that romance is dead and at that stage it’s about putting up with each other. Whichever it was, I suppose it served a point.

Johannes Kuhnke, Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, & Lisa Loven Kongsli
Johannes Kuhnke, Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, & Lisa Loven Kongsli

Peeing scenes aside, my only other criticisms are that it felt a tad long, and that I didn’t quite get the ending. Nevertheless, there is much to be admired in Force Majeure. If you want constant edge-of-your-seat action, then this might not be the ideal choice, but for a realistic look at the roadblocks that marriage will inevitably involve, this is pretty thought-provoking stuff.

4 stars

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