Force Majeure review – compelling, intelligent and grimly entertaining | Force Majeure (Turist) | The Guardian
The common wisdom about big show moments in the movies is that they’re best prepped and saved for last: hit your viewers with a closing slam, whether it’s a busby berkeley dance finale or the apocalyptic slam in an action movie, and send them home shaking. in case of force majeure, swedish writer-director ruben Östlund does it differently. delivers an earth-shaking spectacle (literally) about 10 minutes later, and for the rest of the film leaves us, and more importantly its traumatized characters, dealing with the event and its aftermath.
The incident is an avalanche that occurs during a middle-class Swedish family’s ski break in the Alps. suddenly bursting out in an extraordinary four and a half minute single shot while having lunch on a panoramic balcony, the phenomenon leaves them physically unscathed. but it has an immeasurable psychological impact. In the heat of the moment, Papa Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), whether through a momentary instinctive slip or a fatal character flaw, appears to be alone taking care of himself, at the expense of his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two Small children. what follows is a different kind of avalanche: the dramatic collapse of the couple’s apparently stable relationship and of tomas’ entire being.
Östlund has developed a reputation as something of the Swedish answer to Michael Haneke, with a streak of caustic social observation a la Mike Leigh. he specializes, with utter coolness and control, in twisting the knife into the psyche of his characters and, by extension, that of his nation. his 2008 film Involuntary was an ensemble comedy about everyday humiliations; play (2011) followed a case of teenage bullying, the camera watching from a distance surveillance style.
force majeure also has echoes of ingmar bergman’s dissections of marital hell, but mixed with wry comedy. Östlund not only delves into the emotions of his characters, but also, to deeply uneasy effect, takes us into their intimate habitat. The scenes in the couple’s hotel bathroom are even more disturbingly invasive because, like Haneke’s hidden one, you can’t figure out where the hell the camera is hidden in this cramped, mirror-lined space. this makes Östlund’s characters seem like prisoners, or lab rats, under observation, and their constant visibility subtly raises the stakes throughout. Tomas, collapsing in a hallway, is watched with quiet curiosity by a hotel worker from an upstairs balcony.
No less eloquent than the drama is the representation of the place: inside, the cozy but impersonal hotel, with its natural caramel-colored walls; outside, the ski slopes, themselves an idealization of nature as a theme park, with the snow artificially generated by cannons and flattened to perfection by plows at night.
The atmospheric setting, including the surreal use of a toy drone and a recurring flourish of vivaldi played on the accordion, is playfully nerve-wracking. and the calm detachment of Östlund’s overall approach makes it all the more explosive when moments of crisis erupt, in particular, a strobe-lit dark night of the soul in which Tomas is caught up in a wild stampede of vacation-crazed men. drink and technology .
Force Majeure loses some dramatic focus with the arrival of Tomas’s friend, Mats (Kristofer Hivju), sporting a massive beard in a style best described as a “mountain man in mid-life crisis.” There’s a rather jarring scene where Mats and his much younger hippie girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius) reflect on Tomas’s moment of truth and how it reflects on their own relationship. suddenly Östlund’s discussion agenda – “ok guys, what would you have done?” – turns awkwardly open. The film is much more effective when it lets the situations speak for themselves, such as in a moment of excruciating comedy when you take a look at receiving a compliment from a younger woman, only for things to turn overwhelmingly sour in an instant.
The performance is impeccably controlled, with leads Kuhnke and Kongsli sympathetically establishing the gentleness, just a little self-satisfied, of their characters, then tracing the spreading cracks in their makeup. and the artfully brilliant frisson of fredrik wenzel’s photography highlights a key theme: the clash between our attempts to control nature, be it landscapes or feelings, and the inevitability with which the world and our own fallibility confuse us and leave us alone. stranded. that, I think, is the point of a coda that feels a bit superfluous.
For all its flaws and slightly exaggerated length, Force Majeure is compelling, smart, and grimly entertaining, and though tough on its characters, it’s never gratuitously cruel. I’d wholeheartedly recommend it, though I’d add serious caveats if you were considering it as a date movie.