Force Majeure

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

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15 Responses to “Force Majeure”

  1. I wasn’t aware of what this movie was about, but I was hearing praise for it, and now that I know what it’s about, I’m even more excited to see it. Great review here, Mark.

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  2. Good stuff. Reviewed this yesterday and had an equally positive reaction. Really good movie.

  3. *** SPOILERS ****

    DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE

    I disagree that it’s about the disintegration of a marriage. I wish it were. My problem comes with the ending of this movie, and there are actually three endings to this movie. The first ending is one I like with the husband crying on the floor.

    The second and third I don’t like. What comes after his crying seems to undermine all that came before by somewhat putting the wife in peril and having the husband “rescue” her and then having the wife flip out on a bus. I think all of that was antithetical to what the movie was doing at every turn up until that point, which was breaking down the male gender role or at least challenging it.

    • *** SPOILERS ****

      DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE

      It’s about a lot of things actually. I agree the movie went about 10 minutes too long with that scene on the bus. But the “wife in peril” scene was interesting because she clearly set that up. She was trying to re-establish some equilibrium in their relationship by assuaging his ego.

  4. OOOOOH, SOUNDS INCREDIBLE!!!!
    Great review, can’t wait to see it.

  5. This was great and a little strange. Yes the “endings” were strange, but they left us with numerous conversations about them. I love when movies do that. It also had a lot of beautiful shots. Amazing views. 4 stars

  6. Great review, Mark. This sounds really funny while delving deep into the psyche of marriage. I didn’t care much for Caché, but I’ll keep an eye out for this one.

  7. Great review Mark. This sounds like a must-see. I’m very much looking forward to catching Force Majeure.

  8. I saw this film some months ago and it has stuck in my mind so I had to review it. IMO is about the fragility of constructed identities, especially masculinity. Very interesting; deserved more acclaim.

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