FORCE MAJEURE

★★★

Dir: Ruben Östlund

(2014)

Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund‘s second feature, like his first, concerns itself with an incident which begins to morally poison its characters. In Play the film pivoted on a series of bullying incidents by a gang of black kids in which the witnesses paralysis in coming forward is cemented by the fear of being branded racist. It toyed, incredibly viciously, with its audience, highlighting the inherent prejudices in each community. Force Majeure brilliantly explores a similar internal conundrum when a father makes a split second decision to flee his family during an avalanche in a beautiful French ski resort.

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Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are presented by Östlund as a content and wealthy couple. Their children (brother and sister Clara and Vincent Wettergren) seem like normal, good children, a few tantrums aside. As the director begins to lift the veil by subtly presenting a series of passive aggressive arguments, he shows us that this (or any marriage for that matter) is not without its cracks or secrets. The routine of family life, the side by side tooth brushing before bed, breakfast table fights and family naps in the afternoon are mirrored beautifully by scenes of upkeep around the pistes and lodges; Any relationship is, of course, constant care, rebuilding and attention.

When the controlled avalanche strikes (a blistering centre point a la Michael Haneke) we know what we’ve seen. A grown man grabbing his belongings and running to the safety of a restaurant leaving his family. When the white out subsides Östlund’s unbroken shot continues and Tomas slinks back into shot, embarrassed and changed. “There was an avalanche, we were scared, but everyone is alright” Ebba tells another couple in the dining room of the lodge but Tomas and his refusal to accept his actions of cowardice pushes Ebba to question the commitment of her husband when their friends Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanni (Fanni Metelius) join them on the slopes.

Östlund first makes us credible witnesses and then as Abba uses Mats and Fanny’s friendship to humiliate Tomas further Force Majeure begins to rumble down the mountain. Human nature is pitted alongside mother nature and its obvious which the Swedish director thinks is more cruel. The acidic taste of this cool and well observed film may linger long in your tongue but it’s a brilliantly realised, nuanced and affecting picture with powerful performances and beautifully tense finale.

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