Review – Force Majeure
Force Majeure is a comedy of passive aggressiveness, a scathing satire of masculinity, delivered with Kubrickian unease by writer and director Ruben Östlund.
A Swedish family on a skiing holiday in the French Alps are hit by an avalanche while dining at a mountainside restaurant. Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) flees leaving behind his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children (Vincent and Clara Wettergren). Nobody is physically hurt, and the avalanche is a false alarm, but Tomas’ actions leave his family shaken and his marriage in ruins.
Östlund establishes the superficial portrait of a perfect family in the opening moments of Force Majeure as a roving photographer coaches the family through a series of awkward poses, a ‘smile like you mean it’ moment. Something is not quite right, and there is discontent hiding behind wry grins just waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Further agitating the atmosphere is the anti-avalanche explosions pepping the mountainside; an artificial storm heralding the downfall of the family unit that continues to prod throughout the film as well as bursts of the thunderstorm riff from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Östlund creates a sense of isolation and foreboding as the camera glides across the snow covered landscape. Stunning cinematography from Fredrik Wenzel allows the mountains to assert their dominance over the crisp landscape. The mid-dining avalanche scene is a masterstroke in exposing a dormant conflict that explodes from Tomas’ poor decision making and drives the rest of the story. The big white cloud approaching the camera is one of the most unforgettable scenes in 2014 so far.
Following the avalanche Ebba will tell anyone about her husband’s cowardice and the story is retold across the course of the film, getting worse each time, further plunging Tomas into embarrassment. Reliving the lapse in judgement is cringe worthy each time and made worse because Tomas can’t see the error of his ways.
Kongsli’s cold shoulder is icier than anything in the French Alps. The glances Kongsli trades with Kuhnke across the bathroom mirror while they’re brushing their teeth is pure scorn. On a day when Ebba decides she wants to ski on her own after the incident, she applies lipstick in the mirror like she’s unloading artillery on her spouse; Kongsli is sublime as Ebba. Kuhnke’s Tomas is the ultimate man-baby whose quest to rebuild his marriage and find a shred of his own masculinity in the mountains is laced with Östlund’s satire of the male patriarch as the hunter, gatherer and protector.
As Force Majeure unfolds the cabin fever of the Alps intensifies and Östlund’s family portrait becomes distorted by dysfunction and it’s absolutely captivating.
The Popcorn Junkie