Force Majeure (2014)

Writer & Director: Ruben Östlund
Cinematographer: Fredrik Wenzel
Composer: Ola Fløttum
Cast: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius, Karin Myrenberg, Brady Corbet.

A Swedish family of four (dad, mom, a son and daughter) go on a much needed vacation skiing in the French Alps. After a couple of nice days hitting the slopes, while enjoying a nice lunch eating outdoors overlooking the majestic mountains an avalanche appears and differently from the other contained ones, this one is heading straight for the diners. Suddenly everything is white, chaos and confusion ensue. Once the fog created by the snow begins to dissipate it becomes clear that while the mom tried to shield and protect her two children, the father grabbed his cell phone and gloves and ran towards his own safety. Awkwardly he returns to the table and completes his meal.

This is how Ruben Östlund’s film Force Majeure (original title: Turist) opens. With the exception of the aforementioned avalanche which is quite the thrilling scene, the rest of the movie is a quiet study of what happens in the aftermath of the behavior exhibited by a family patriarch and how dynamics shift and what issues are brought to light because of a split decision made in a moment of panic. A lot of the film’s success hinges on the audience’s participation and the reaction to what occurs, as viewers we also must question what we would have done and how we would have behaved, and then must align ourselves with those whose perspectives best match our own. No easy answers are provided, which is what makes the end result so mesmerizing and uncomfortable. Tomas and Ebba, the couple in question, could be absolutely anyone. Tomas would rather forget the ordeal, at first thinking it trivial and then wanting to combat the shame and guilt that begin to take over. Ebba is incapable of letting it go, bringing it up at inopportune times and slowly picking away at her husband’s dedication to his family and at her own love for him. The disease that infiltrates the family begins to spread, such as when the discussion arises during a dinner with friends (look out for Game of Thrones‘ Kristofer Hivju), whose own issues are magnified by the discussion and crisis.

I loved that the film has really no score, but every once in a while, prior to a particular escalation of emotions, a swell of ominous violin music is played (which, ironically enough, is a three second snippet from Vivaldi’s Summer concerto), which increases the sense of unease felt throughout. Reminders of the avalanche also never go away, as explosions ring out throughout the film (necessary to provoke avalanches, so that when people ski no such thing actually takes place naturally). There is no escape from the situation and eventually things come to a head, culminating in one of the most sweat inducing concluding moments I can recall in recent films.

Long after the movie’s credits roll and end the film stays with you, along with a very simple question that is so hard to answer: Had it been you, what would you have done?

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