“There's nothing in your head that you haven't said!”
Swedish director, Ruben Ostlund, has directed an impressive relational drama about a family that is enjoying their vacation in the gorgeous French Alpes. Force Majeure reminds us how our relationships can shift from one moment to the next. It is a film of stark contrasts (not just because Ostlund decides to include Vivaldi’s Summer Concerto during the transition shots of the snow covered mountains). It is ironic that this ideal middle class married couple with two young kids are enjoying their vacations in this beautiful resort, which ends up being the place where their relationship is tested. What happens during the first ten minutes of the film is that the family is enjoying a nice meal when all of a sudden one of the controlled avalanches at the sight gets a bit larger than anticipated and seems to be heading straight towards the outdoor restaurant where they are having lunch. The father’s reaction is a cowardly one and in a matter of a second he gets up from the table and runs off leaving his children and wife behind, while the mother embraces her children expecting the avalanche to bury them. But the only thing that covers them is the large cloud of smoke from the avalanche that fell a few feet below the restaurant. It was all a simple scare, but the wife can’t believe her husband reacted in such a way. The avalanche then becomes a metaphor of what will happen later on in the film as the wife doesn’t mention anything at first despite being deeply bothered by the event, but as time passes things begin to escalate until several confrontations take place. From that point on Force Majeure becomes an emotional and intriguing relational drama which shakes our perspective of the universally accepted male role. It is uncomfortable to watch at times because we feel bad for this character who was betrayed by his own instincts. The question is wether or not this split second behavior says something about our true nature or if it was a simple survival reaction. Through the confrontations that husband and wife have about this episode, Ostlund delivers an interesting character study with some dark humor in the mix.
The best aspects about this film are the strong performances from the lead characters, the gorgeous landscape and clever use of long shots with steady cameras, and the interesting premise which provides for an interesting study of gender roles. The negative aspect is that there are several scenes which I felt could’ve been left out. The pacing is slow and tedious at times and some of the steady shots are a bit too prolonged and don’t seem to add anything to the story. Clocking in at two hours, the film drags during some moments, but if it would’ve been cut to around the 90 minute mark this could’ve been a brilliantly paced film. The classical music gets a bit repetitive during each transition shot with the controlled explosions which is also symbolic. Ostlund does succeed in letting the actors tell the story and simply placing the camera as a spectator letting the action unfold in front of us. The avalanche scene is brilliantly shot in a very simplistic way and there are other great shots throughout the movie (like the final bus scene), but they never interfere in the story. The performances from Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli as the married couple are solid. Kuhnke has a very uncomfortable scene during the third act which may seem a bit exaggerated, but he still pulls it off. Kristofer Hivju and Fanni Metelius play the married couple’s friends who are also vacationing together at the resort. They provide some of the comedy in this film as somehow the couple’s conflict also affects them. The children played by Vincent and Clara Westergren are also believable and touching in their roles. There are many moments where things aren’t said with words, but rather with non-verbal physical expressions making this an even more effective emotional drama. It may not have received the love from the Academy that most were predicting, but it’s still a solid film worth checking out