Force Majeure (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for some language and brief nudity
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Lisa Loven Kongsli, Johannes Kuhnke, Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Screenplay: Ruben Ostlund
Review published November 16, 2014
Force Majeure is contains an avalanche that is supposed to be controlled but seemingly can't be stopped on its increasingly speedy roll downhill, to the point of becoming truly frightening. The film is also about the aftermath for a married Swedish couple on a ski vacation in the French Alps, as husband Tomas (Kuhnke, The Inheritance), seeing the avalanche fast approaching as they dine on the balcony café of their lodgings, panics, leaving wife Ebba (Kongsli, The Orheim Company) and children behind (though managing to rescue his cell phone), returning to the scene when the immediate danger passes. The couple stays together, avoiding the subject matter for a spell, but like the avalanche that is supposed to be controlled, once it is set in motion, it won't stop its descent until it reaches culmination and potential destruction.
Ruben Ostlund (Play, Involuntary) writes and directs this slow-paced but absorbing look at how a solid marriage can start to fester and unravel as a result of a split-second instinctual decision. Ebba eventually tries to broach the subject, but Tomas is in a state of denial about it all, and soon the situation escalates to being more about Tomas' character, or lack thereof, than what he did for several seconds on a frightening afternoon. With Tomas under the proverbial microscope, Ebba begins to question just what kind of man she may have married, and whether she can live with him after seeing him as a weak coward, while the kids begin to withdraw into themselves, scared that mommy and daddy could end up in divorce.
It's not all bleak, as there is an undercurrent of comedy throughout the movie, some of it drawing out nervous laughter, and others just looking at the absurdity of the lies, excuses, and pomposity of the male ego. His putting of himself and his own issues above the needs of his family are evident throughout, as are his compulsion to always win and be right -- things that should be let go when dealing with ones dear loved ones. There is conversation among him and his friend Mats (Hivju, After Earth) as to how just providing for the family should be sufficient to show how much the patriarchs care, but from the point of view of those cared for, the physical comfort is what's really important -- financial considerations are merely a part of the overall equation in that care.
The performances are quite solid, particularly Kongsli as a wife with character and innate sense of protection for her children, wildly contrasting the smugness of Kuhnke, who keeps trying to bury notions of his own inadequacy under years and years of self-inflation. Meanwhile, a shift in the gender roles beings to occur, culminating in the woman having to take charge in the presence of a man that can't be relied upon; even finding a way to pick up his self esteem has to be done by her initiation.
Force Majeure may not be for everyone, particularly because of its slow pace, detached tone, scenes and characters that seem like side notes rather than about the story at hand, and a ponderous ending. My take is that Ostlund must lull us into the trance-like mind state of the seemingly eerie environs, where things are cold, distant, and foreign, but the people within still have to find, in this sterile environment, a way to retain their sense of self. As a masterful look at relationship dynamics, the discomfort of defined gender roles, and the beginning of the end of a relationship (perhaps), it's a cinematic force to be reckoned with.
©2014 Vince Leo