Archive for January, 2015

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Shorts on January 31, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Oscar Shorts 2015ShortsHD™, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv), celebrates its 10th anniversary of its Oscar shorts release by opening “THE OSCAR® NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2015 in a record 450+ theatres across the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America on Friday January 30, 2015. Some features available On Demand and/or on iTunes.

I must say that the Academy’s documentary branch must be a very despondent group. Without question, the 5 most deeply depressing films in any category this year, and perhaps of any year – at least since I‘ve been watching. The takeaway in all of them is that through great suffering, there is hope. Even the most emotionally devastating short highlights altruistic individuals. The movies are listed in order, starting with my strongest recommendation. People already haunted by a negative outlook on life should proceed with caution.

 

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
USA/40MINS/Director: Ellen Goosenberg Kent
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
While 1% of Americans have served in the military, they account for 20% of all suicides in the U.S.  Enlightening look into a crisis center in upstate New York that focuses on calls from military veterans. We hear one side of the conversation – the admirable men and women working at the facility trying to help. However it’s the things I could infer from their dialogue that rattled me most.  For instance, many callers have weapons in hand.  HBO’s formidable documentary division shines a light on an urgent problem that demands attention. The front-runner in this category and rightfully so. (9/10)

 

Joanna
POLAND/40MINS/Director: Aneta Kopacz
Joanna
Mother Joanna has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and this record details the simple, but treasured moments with her family. Her relationship with her little boy is highlighted where they have slight conversations that draw them closer together. A brief but intimate look into her life. Like Our Curse, it has real humanity but the slender window of time presented has more significance for family members than for general audiences. Where does the story go from here? (6/10)

 

Our Curse
POLAND/27MINS/Director: Tomasz Śliwiński
Our Curse
Probably the hardest one to watch. It’s about Leo, a baby with congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), also referred to as Ondine’s curse. If you cry just thinking about an infant with tracheostomy tube, you’re going to have problems with this one. It’s a punishing watch. I was tearing up just a couple minutes in, but it highlights hope in the form of two parents: Tomasz (the director) and his wife Magda. I thank God that their little baby is in their hands. I feel like he’s going to be getting good care and a lot of love. This story is far from over though. Future episodes are a must for anyone wanting updates on their difficult journey. (6/10)

 

White Earth
USA/20MINS/Director: J. Christian Jensen
White Earth
North Dakota has seen an influx of people seeking work due to an oil boom. This meandering take is mostly filtered through the eyes of children. An immigrant mother is also featured. The chronicle means well, but this account of how the quality of human life has deteriorated in this town, is so vague. Bleak just for the sake of being bleak. (5/10)

 

The Reaper (La Parka)
MEXICO/29MINS/Director: Gabriel Serra Argüello
The Reaper (La Parka)
A man who works in a slaughterhouse reflects on his connection with death. Efrain seems like a thoughtful fellow but what we remember is lots of artistic cinematography of cows being killed, bloody carcasses and racks of meat being processed. Yuck! Turned my stomach. (1/10)

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live Action (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Shorts with tags on January 28, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Oscar ShortsShortsHD™, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv), celebrates its 10th anniversary of its Oscar shorts release by opening “THE OSCAR® NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2015 in a record 450+ theatres across the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America on Friday January 30, 2015.

Once again I’ve decided to list the shorts – live action category, in the order that I enjoyed them. Interestingly, the U.S. isn’t represented.  Some of these features are also available On Demand and/or on iTunes.

 

Boogaloo and Graham
UK/14MINS/Director: Michael Lennox
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In 1970’s Belfast, a father gives his sons, Jamesy and Malachy, two baby chicks. They care for their chickens like a beloved family pets – but mom has other ideas. An uplifting tale that celebrates the lengths parents will go to for the love of their kids. The shortest nominee also happens to be my personal favorite. (7/10)

 

Parvaneh
SWITZERLAND/25MINS/Director: Talkhon Hamzavi
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An Afghan teen travels to Zurich to send money to her ailing father back in Afghanistan.  A Swiss punk girl agrees to help her. Some poignant culture clash moments in a nicely acted duet of performances. (7/10)

 

Aya
ISRAEL – FRANCE/39MINS/Directors: Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun
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Thomas, a Danish man, mistakenly believes Aya to be his assigned driver. Enchanted by the random encounter, she impulsively decides to go along with the charade. On the way to his Jerusalem destination, the reserved pianist and the unpredictable driver have an intimate conversation. Very well written, but you keep waiting for something to happen. Rather long too. (6/10)

 

Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)
FRANCE-CHINA/15MINS/Director: Hu Wei
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A nomadic photographer and his assistant photograph Tibetan people in front of various backgrounds. Many of the backgrounds are from other countries. Brief sketch has a striking final shot. A crisp comment on pop culture contrasted with the beauty we overlook around us. (6/10)

 

The Phone Call
UK/21MINS/Director: Mat Kirkby
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A shy woman (Sally Hawkins) works at a helpline call center. She receives a phone call from a despondent old man (Jim Broadbent) and the two have a conversation. This is the category front-runner given the fact that it features 2 gifted thespians. The 20 minute short highlights a nicely written conversation. However the payoff isn’t the uplifting coda the filmmaker clearly wants it to be. That closing song is a deal breaker – unless of course you think suicide is a great way for unhappy people to solve things. (5/10)

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Animation (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on January 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Oscar ShortsShortsHD™, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv), celebrates its 10th anniversary of its Oscar shorts release by opening “THE OSCAR® NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2015 in a record 450+ theatres across the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America on Friday January 30, 2015.

I really appreciate these programs because it gives the public the opportunity to see the Oscar nominated short films in the categories: animation, live action and documentary. I’ve decided to list the animated shorts in the order that I enjoyed them from great to merely good. I dug them all so I’d at least recommend each one to a certain extent, although it’s a shame Glen Keane’s Duet didn’t make the cut.

 

The Dam Keeper
USA/18MINS/Directors: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
The Dam Keeper
Touching tale about a young pig, his important job, the kids who bully him at school and the new classmate that changes everything. This saga tugs at the heartstrings more honestly than any nominee this year. My personal favorite. (9/10)

 

Feast
USA/6MINS/Director: Patrick Osborne
Feast
Latest offering from Walt Disney studios was shown before Big Hero 6 in theaters so chances are you’ve seen this one at least. Sweet feature recounts the love life of a human man as told through the meals he feeds his beloved dog. Succinct, remarkably emotional saga in just 6 minutes. The front-runner, although this category can be unpredictable. See last year’s winner: Mr. Hublot. (9/10)

 

The Bigger Picture
UK/7MINS/Director: Daisy Jacobs
The Bigger Picture
Two brothers argue over whether to put their mother in a home. Visually interesting design combines traditional animation, stop motion techniques, life size 3D models and wall paintings. Director Jacobs creates a tableau that elevates its simple narrative with arresting visual style. (7/10)

 

Me and My Moulton
CANADA/NORWAY/14MINS/Director: Torill Kove
Me and My Moulton
Quirky story of three sisters living in an artsy Norwegian family who yearn for a bicycle. A Moulton is an English bike manufacturer by the way. Bright color palette and simple style highlights Torill Kove’s 3rd nomination. She won in 2007 with The Danish Poet so perhaps she has history on her side. (6/10)

 

A Single Life
THE NETHERLANDS/2MINS/Directors: Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen
A Single Life
A record gives a woman the power to time travel through moments of her life. At 2 minutes this is the shortest entry this year. It’s cute but not enough time to elicit more than a chuckle by the time it’s over. (6/10)

A Most Violent Year

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on January 23, 2015 by Mark Hobin

A Most Violent Year photo starrating-4stars.jpgA Most Violent Year is similarly titled in the same deceptive way that There Will Be Blood was named. Yes it concerns violent acts but it’s nowhere near as bloody as the crime dramas of Martin Scorsese for example. The setting is New York City 1981.  Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) seeks to expand a struggling oil delivery company. There has been a rash of attacks on his drivers. Thieves are hijacking trucks and stealing the oil. Meanwhile he is trying to secure a loan that will help him grow the business.

There’s a familiarity woven into the production. Abel Morales is a character Al Pacino would have portrayed in the 70s. As his wife Anna Morales, Jessica Chastain is channeling early 80s Michelle Pfeiffer style if not the personality. Alright, I’ll admit I’m alluding to Scarface here, but The Godfather is a reference as well. The production kind of suggests the mob mentality of those films but they’re not a good comparison. A Most Violent Year is actually rather elegant. Oscar Isaac resists the impulse to be a hoodlum, despite the temptation. He understands the mobster lifestyle is the road to hell and opts for legally working within the system to rise above the mire of that behavior. He’s steely calm in the face of crisis. His Brooklyn born wife is another story. Jessica Chastain is more gangster than he is. She’s fantastic in this role. I mean we already know the actress can inhabit a part like few of her generation but she steals the spotlight here. Her delivery of lines like “This was very disrespectful” to David Oyelowo’s district attorney conveys so much with just a wave of her finger. In another sequence, the couple accidentally hit a deer in their car on the way home one evening. Chastain owns that scene too.

That’s not to say that Isaac isn’t her equal. As Abel Morales, he’s a charismatic guy that embodies the idea that “success and prosperity are attainable through hard work, determination, and initiative.” There’s an occasion early in A Most Violent Year when businessman Abel is conferring with one of his drivers Julian (Elyes Gabel). The Spanish speaking man starts to talk in his native tongue and Abel corrects him. “In English” he insists. Later he’s trying to get information from Julian’s wife and the exchange is completely in Spanish. It’s a telling moment. Abel has the ability to speak Spanish but he chooses not to unless it’s absolutely necessary. He has fully bought into the American way of life and assimilated into its culture.

A Most Violent Year is an interesting take on the American Dream. Columbian born Abel Morales is not the stereotypical all American boy next door. With his wavy black hair and dark eyes he rocks a camel-hair topcoat with a suave personality to match. Plus he’s got the work ethic that says he’s going places.  The wardrobe is key – so well dressed. The only thing that rivals Abel’s succession of double breasted suits, is Chastain’s seemingly endless wardrobe of outfits. Just try and watch the couple engage a potential investor at dinner and NOT stare at Anna’s plunging neckline. It complements her personality. What I’m really saying is I love the mood of A Most Violent Year. Along with a haunting score by Alex Ebert, Director J.C. Chandor weaves a deep tale of the American Dream that authentically portrays the time period as if it was genuinely filmed in 1981. Chandor has directed 3 critically acclaimed movies to date, and for my money, this is his most entertaining. If he’s reading, “Keep up the great work!  I can’t wait to see what you do next.”

01-22-15

Paddington

Posted in Comedy, Family on January 22, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Paddington photo starrating-4stars.jpgA charismatic visitor comes to live with a British family in London and their presence has a positive effect on their world. That’s the story of Paddington Bear, but if you stop and reflect on it, that description could also apply to Mary Poppins. Add the fact that it’s based on a popular series of books and is a live action film incorporating a little animation and the similarities start to get a little uncanny. Ok so it’s not a musical. I suppose the parallels had to end somewhere, but the comparisons couldn’t be more apt because Paddington is a sprightly joy that ranks right up there with the beloved Disney classic of 1964.

Author Michael Bond’s 1958 creation is a sophisticated bear from darkest Peru who speaks perfectly modulated English, eats Marmalade sandwiches and wears a red floppy bush hat. Paddington is the latest from UK based Heyday Films, most notable for producing the Harry Potter series. I don’t know if they want to focus on that kid friendly niche but I’d encourage the idea. They’ve created a most heartwarming children’s adaptation. Paddington is no ordinary bear. He was taught human customs by an explorer named Montgomery Clyde when Clyde was visiting South America. After Paddington’s habitat is destroyed in an earthquake, the young bear is brought by his aunt to a ship bound for London to find a new place to call home. At Paddington station he meets the Brown family and their collaboration begins.

The picture is a charming delight. The art direction is really on point. The Browns live in a gorgeous dollhouse of a dwelling. Mom (Sally Hawkins) & Dad (Hugh Bonneville) with their kids Judy (Madeleine Harris) & Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are an ordinary family in need of some adventure. The bright, cheery comedy remains innocent and doesn’t degenerate into pop culture schtick or cheap innuendo. The production didn’t always seem that way. Paddington Bear starts out with the Browns on kind of a slapstick note when he arrives at their residence and gets ready for bed.  Gags about ear-wax and sticking his head in the toilet after drinking mouthwash were used for the trailer. But they aren’t emblematic of the refined quality of the movie. Although the way the scene ends is funny for its exaggerated spectacle.

Paddington is unabashedly wholesome. That’s not to say the script is schmaltzy. Nicole Kidman pops up as the villain – a beguiling museum taxidermist sporting a blonde bob hairstyle. Her Millicent injects some sinister edge into a story that could’ve been a saccharine tale. An even more fundamental ingredient is our star, an Andean bear. Ben Whishaw is the voice of the CGI fellow replacing Colin Firth, whose voice was deemed too mature. The character, who is the personification of goodness, strikes just the right balance of sweetness and mischief. Paddington’s amusing mishaps often rely on his naiveté. His misadventure involving returning a lost wallet is a humorous case of mistaken identity. It’s too early to anoint this as the best children’s film of 2015, but if this is representative of family entertainment this year, then we’re off to a great start.

01-16-15

Two Days, One Night

Posted in Drama, Foreign on January 19, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Two Days, One Night photo starrating-3stars.jpgBy now the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have established themselves as a major force within the Belgian movie industry. They write, produce and direct their pictures together. They’ve been nominated for the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, SIX times and have actually won twice. Their latest is the French language Two Days, One Night, yet another one of their films that appropriates the aesthetics of directors like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. The principles of 1940s Italian neorealism is updated to modern day Belgium in a tale that documents one working class woman’s journey to reclaim her job.

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has suffered a nervous breakdown and has taken a leave of absence. While away, her colleagues pick up her slack by putting in longer hours. In exchange they are promised the hefty bonus of €1000 Euros. Now redundant, Sandra’s ability to return to work hinges on a vote amongst her co-workers. They must agree to either forgo their extra salary so she can be hired back OR keep their compensation and invalidate her position.

Marion Cotillard is a gorgeous woman and she’s naturally pretty here but not the unattainable beauty she often plays in American films. She is a working class mother and wife, dealing with the threat of losing her job. She presents a desperate woman persuading her co-workers to relinquish their bonuses. In this way, the small solar-panel factory where they’re employed, will hire her back. Sandra is not well. She has nightmares during the day, cannot stop crying, and is popping pills at an alarming rate just to stay calm. Cotillard conveys a world weary vulnerability. She is utterly believable as a woman still suffering from serious mental illness.

What isn’t credible is that a company would decide whether to rehire a sick employee back, by placing that decision in the hands of said person’s co-workers . Perhaps this kind of egalitarianism on the job is commonplace in Belgium but in the U.S. there is a distinct hierarchy in the workplace. At any level of responsibility, one reports to a person known as a supervisor and that boss is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the company. Whether people get hired or fired is not left to one’s peers to decide. The premise is so contrived and far fetched that it makes the nature of the tragedy seem kind of ridiculous. Add to the fact that the entire movie consists of watching a woman, albeit a sympathetic one, beg for her job to one person after another for 90 minutes. Marion Cotillard commands your attention but the drama itself is awkward, demeaning and unpleasantly repetitive.

01-18-15

Citizenfour

Posted in Documentary on January 15, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Citizenfour  photo starrating-3stars.jpgI suppose one must make a distinction between what Edward Snowden did and how this documentary presents his contribution to society. There’s no question what Snowden achieved took a lot of courage. The repercussions of his actions will be felt for years to come. He is wholly unassuming in one sense, someone about which you might pass on the street and not think twice. He’s an extremely erudite, well spoken bespectacled gentleman, a geek to some perhaps, but a young, slim, handsome man nonetheless, with a girlfriend for whom he is worried. He‘s a whistleblower if you will, a concerned member of the community who leaked classified intelligence from the National Security Agency (NSA) where he worked that gave damning evidence regarding their illegal surveillance techniques on the American public. The effects of which are still being discussed today.

Back in January 2013, documentarian Laura Poitras was contacted via email by a stranger using the pseudonym Citizenfour. The unknown associate offered inside knowledge about extensive privacy abuses by the NSA against its own citizens in the U.S. The man was Edward Snowden, an American computer professional, who wanted to tell his story. He met with Poitras and investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, who was the Guardian intelligence correspondent. Regardless of your opinion of Snowden, he seemingly has no ulterior motive other than to convey information he genuinely felt must be revealed in order to benefit humanity. Edward Snowden’s choice to come forward and simply discuss what he knows forms the basis of this chronicle.

Citizenfour is an insider’s look into a groundbreaking event. What Poitras records is Edward Snowden’s anxiety. The fear of an ordinary man that is exposing what he must in a Hong Kong hotel room. At one point a fire-alarm test in the building has him utterly paranoid that the authorities are coming to get him. The document is filmed over 8 days detailing Snowden’s discussions with journalists Greenwald and MacAskill. Occasionally we break away and witness U.S. officials in court give contradictory testimony. They assert no such surveillance is being done, despite warnings to the contrary. These governmental practices are supposedly necessary in a post 9/11 world – the unfortunate result of terrorist activity. Citizenfour is a rather claustrophobically set in a hotel room. As a revolutionary moment in history that chronicles the life-changing decision of a brave man, it‘s an important work that demands to be seen. In that sense, this feature is indispensable. As a work of entertainment, however, it leaves something to be desired.

12-11-14

Mr. Turner

Posted in Biography, Drama, History on January 11, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Mr. Turner photo starrating-2stars.jpgIn Mike Leigh’s world, artist J. M. W. Turner (Timothy Spall) is a buffoon. An uncouth slob who grunts when he’s content and grunts when he’s despondent. An unpleasant beast that possessed a lot of skill but wielded it much in the same way a laborer would paint the walls of a room, with little care for passion or joy. The usual road for a biography such as this would be to present the master as a hero and tempt the audience with his impressive level of talent. There is no question in my mind that Turner was a genius in real life. I’ve seen his art. I knew this going in. What I was expecting was a deeper appreciation for the artist’s craft, technique or style. Oh you silly silly critic, I thought 75 minutes, merely halfway, into this interminable slog. This is a Mike Leigh movie. When has the director ever done what is expected? Unless of course it’s pitching a meandering chronicle with little plot or purpose. Then he sticks to the blueprint with rigid tenacity.

Mike Leigh’s filmmaking method is legendary. His lack of structure is pure catnip to those who worship at the altar of non conformity. In some circles, I suppose that’s the highest compliment I can pay – it’s a Mike Leigh production. The director has long been the cultural zenith for people who hate films that adhere to the norms of storytelling like having a climax or being like, ya know, interesting. Perhaps the lack of preparation has been exaggerated into more of a myth by now. No script. No order. Just a discussion with the actors on where to take the characters. The “story” will happen organically as the actors interact. Only after these improvised acting exercises does the narrative take shape. At least one would hope it comes together. As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on that.

Mr. Turner spotlights the painter’s final quarter century of life when his more experimental side was being explored. He’s already in his 50s at the beginning of this tale. Leigh’s aim is to offer little vignettes in Turner’s life that almost subvert the traditional biopic. To Leigh’s credit, he doesn’t elevate his subject, so I guess that’s unexpected in a drama detailing the work of a great artist. The director’s focus is to wallow in the depths of a boorish clown – a man more inspired to shag his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) than to paint great works of art. His biography could hardly be used as a way to learn about the man. An array of historical figures are paraded before the camera with no regard for establishing who they are or why they‘re important. I learned more information from the first paragraph of Turner’s Wikipedia article than I did from this nearly three hour film. But for those who like some facts, Turner is a preeminent British painter, “the painter of light” noted for his gorgeous landscapes. The production’s biggest merit is the cinematography where several cinematic vistas are captured that do convey the picturesque subjects Turner paints. Unfortunately most of Mr. Turner is a limp portrait presenting a repulsive man that happened to create transcendent art. If that’s Mike Leigh‘s idea of an ironic joke, I’m not laughing.

01-11-15

The Homesman

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Homesman photo starrating-2stars.jpgThe Homesman should’ve been a slam dunk. Take a 2-time Oscar winning actress, Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) and have her play a bossy aging spinster. Then add legendary Oscar winning actor Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) and have him depict a cantankerous old man. Throw them together as a couple of mismatched travelers. Then sit back and bask in the charm that is sure to follow. The problem is (1) the adventure is dreary as all get-out, (2) the dialogue lacks witty banter and (3) they’re saddled with three miserable women in tow.

The Homesman is a Western centered on frontierswoman Mary Bee Cuddy. She is an unmarried strong willed independent “old maid” from Loup City, Nebraska. Three women in the community have gone plum crazy. Reverend Dowd (John Lithgow) has asked for someone to escort the women eastward to a church in Iowa that cares for the mentally ill. Mary Bee is suffering from depression herself. Having been rejected yet again by a potential husband for being too plain. Feeling a kinship with these less fortunate souls, Mary Bee volunteers for the task. Early on her trip, she encounters George Briggs, a claim jumper, who is about to be hanged. He begs for his life and she frees him in exchange for his help.

This revisionist Western has mainly received notice for Hilary Swank’s unvarnished performance. Apparently not wearing makeup will court Oscar talk these days. She gives a sensible portrayal but it‘s far from the revelatory manifestation the buzz would have you believe. The three women that she has agreed to transport are poorly defined characters. They spend most of the duration locked in the back of a vehicle that looks like a paddy wagon. Their personalities are almost interchangeable. None of them speak so I really couldn’t tell one from the other except that one carries a doll. Whenever they’re on screen it just sucks the life out of the proceedings.

The Homesman is a thoroughly depressing experience with little energy. The idea of throwing a feminist and a curmudgeon on a road trip is inspired. But our central duo are not nearly engaging as they should be. It’s mostly forgettable except for a few amusing moments. Out of the blue a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones gets up and dances a zesty jig while singing by the campfire. In another scene, he torches a hotel in a spiteful rage and that got my pulse quickening a bit. Oh James Spader’s pompous hotelier is another high point in a production that usually operates a constant low. The story is inert. To make matters worse, a late dramatic development just happens abruptly. The perplexing act ostensibly motivated by religious guilt. The script is frustratingly cloudy on that point and when the chronicle isn’t being vague, it’s just dull.

01-06-15

Force Majeure

Posted in Drama on January 8, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Force Majeure photo starrating-4stars.jpgA Swedish family is on vacation at a luxury resort in the French Alps. They have been skiing on their second day. Husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren), have decided to break for lunch. The four of them are sitting outdoors on the terrace of the resort’s rooftop restaurant, the breathtaking view of the snowy mountain behind them. Suddenly a huge controlled avalanche is seen cascading down the mountain toward them in the distance. It grows ever closer at alarming speed. Watch closely. What happens next will shake Ebba to her core. Their relationship will never be the same.

Force majeure is a French phrase literally meaning “superior force“. It’s a legal provision used in contracts as well. A ‘force majeure’ clause outlines the extreme conditions under which one or both parties may be freed from obligation or liability. These events include but are not limited to acts of God, war, riots, strikes, etc. The title is clever because it relates to the physical force of an avalanche but it also suggests the institution of marriage as defined by a contract.

Force Majeure is a sharp, unsettling take on a marriage. The uncomfortably long takes, the static shots, the chilly milieu – everything about Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s work reminded me of the style of Michael Haneke, in particular his 2005 drama Caché. Dare I say that Östlund’s production even exceeds the Austrian director’s work? It has an ending at least. Granted the movie would’ve benefited from some judicious editing – a few less seemingly unnecessary scenes. Nevertheless the chronicle is artfully composed. And the music! The fervent Summer finale from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, rendered on an accordion no less, is a heart-pounding musical flourish that highlights the intensity of the production. The cannons go off above the ski slopes of the Alpine Valley . They’re supposed to trigger controlled avalanches, Early on, one in particular sets the events in motion. Let me tell you, the snowslide is a stunning piece of cinematic destruction. The camera still. It does not move, capturing in frightening detail the natural disaster that transpires. That cruel twist of fate throws a wrench into their well-to-do, idyllic lives of privilege. At the beginning husband Tomas is a handsome and fit alpha male posing with his beautiful wife and kids. Near the end, he’s on the floor sobbing, exhibiting the most pathetic man-cry ever manifested on film.

Force Majeure is Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film. As of this writing it hasn’t even been nominated, but given how good it is, I’d say it’s a pretty sure thing. What makes Force Majeure so compelling is the very immediacy of it all. In less than a minute, a horrific avalanche prompts a split second reaction. Ah but the lasting effects, trigger the gradually eroding bond of Tomas and Ebba‘s marriage. We witness the couple’s discussions, their awkward silences, the recounting of what happened, their uncontrolled arguments in front of friends and random hotel workers, the children’s rising anxiety. We watch uncomfortably at the sidelines. The camera captures everything in raw, unblinking detail. We are but a helpless observer. We can do nothing. But we can put ourselves in their place and question how we would react. Surely heroism and bravery are the qualities to which we aspire. Man is the protector, right? But when do survival instincts kick in? Force Majeure does a brilliant job at presenting the disintegration of a marriage, but it goes much deeper because it presents questions for the audience. The philosophical narrative will make you internally question how you would react while you outwardly profess your chivalry. It will prompt discussion. The subject won’t be forgotten and neither will this movie.

01-03-15