Force Majeure

Year: 2014
Production Co: Beofilm
Director: Ruben Östlund
Writer: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli

Can a split second, fight or flight decision make a family unravel? That's the conceit of this familial drama (it's been called a comedy by many, though it's hard to see way) and while you can't imagine how such a premise is going to fill up a two-hour movie it does so effectively.

While skiing in the French Alps for their holiday, married couple Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their kids are having lunch in the resort café when an avalanche starts thundering down the nearby mountain.

At first it's a fun spectacle, everyone assuming it's part of the controlled blasting the resort carries out to dislodge dangerous drifts on an ongoing basis. But as the wall of snow builds and looms down on the tiny resort buildings, panic sets in. With his wife and kids screaming for him, Tomas turns tail and flees in panic.

For awhile it seems everyone's just coming down from the adrenaline and nothing else is wrong, but we soon see a nagging discomfort in Ebba regarding her husband and his apparent willingness to abandon his family in the face of danger.

It gnaws at the couple and everything they do like a growing infection under a fingernail following a splinter, and as their relationship turns uglier it colours their view of everything around them, from the sexually liberated friend Ebba's made at the hotel to the two friends who come to visit and ski with them.

Angry looks across dinner tables and the stark white skifields are punctuated by the urgent strains of Summer from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and when that's not hammering home the emotionally violent discord, it's the humming background of the hotel or the empty sounds of the resort around the family that ratchet up the tension.

In stretching the idea as far as it does it's more an accomplished filmmaking exercise than a realistic one, but there are scenes of honestly brutal (and brutally honest) truth in it. If you've ever been married and had a fight right before meeting company you'll squirm at the sight of Tomas and Ebba trying to be nice in front of people but obviously wanting to throttle each other.

It doesn't really know where to finish and the bad-bus-driver climax seems to have been settled upon because it's as good an ending as any other, but until then it's an effective picture of the downsides of marriage.

As one brilliant review so far puts it; 'One thing's for sure – any father who sees Force Majeure will stay rooted to their seat the next time an avalanche is coming their way. The alternative is more painful than annihilation.'

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