by Grant Cronin
Do you ever wonder how you would react in certain situations? How you would react in a life or death situation? Whether you would fight or fly? This idea is explored in a twisted and unsettling manner in Ruben Östlund’s 2014 comedy-drama Force Majeure.
A Swedish family’s idyllic skiing holiday in the French Alps takes a drastic turn when they are caught up in a controlled avalanche gone wrong and husband and father Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) panics and leaves his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and his two children to the mercy of the wall of snow in what is a remarkably filmed sequence. Luckily, the family survive but what is left is an incredible tension within the family, most notably in Tomas and Ebba’s marriage. This is a very strong opening fifteen minutes.
The rest of film spends the remainder of its running time picking over the aftermath of Tomas’ cowardly actions and the effect it has on Ebba and his children. We even get an highly enjoyable appearance from Game of Thrones’ Kristofer Hivju.
First and foremost the cinematography in this film is impeccable. You really get a sense that this small family’s dramas are being played out in the back drop of the towering and imposing mountains of the French Alps. The location is the perfect setting for the family in crisis. The humour is dark and sharp and takes you by surprise – even though the majority of the film will be taken in by subtitles if you’re not fluent in Swedish – the dark and slightly twisted humour still lands. For every beat of the film you are peculiarly on the edge of your seat awaiting another catastrophe to happen to the arguably unbalanced family.
For a film with no death or any discernible violence the whole plot plays out like an inquest into the death of someone who doesn’t even die. Maybe Östlund is attempting to make a point about the death of trust, perhaps the death of the ‘traditional’ family model or even something as dense as the death of patriarchy? Either way, this is a flowing and satisfying two hours that leaves you bewildered enough for you to want more.
Swedish cinema has a new fan.
Force Majeure is currently on Netflix UK and is most definitely recommended.
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