Force Majeure Review: 3.5 out of 4
FORCE MAJEURE has its origins in a question I have long been fascinated by: How do human beings react in sudden and unexpected situations, such as a catastrophe? The story concerns a family on holiday that witnesses an avalanche and the father runs away, terrified. When it is over, he is ashamed because he has succumbed to his primal fear.
- Writer/Director Ruben Östlund on his film Force Majeure
Quite simply, Force Majeure (opening today, Oct. 24), is unlike any film I've seen in a long time. It's certainly one of the darkest, most daring satires to come around in a while, and I'll include the recent Gone Girl, which was also a marriage satire. Force Majeure and Gone Girl's subject matter are both far apart enough where you can appreciate each films tone as it's own. This film has a specific target it wants to hit and it hits it very well.
The family dynamic has the possibility to be filled with a wide array of complex content and rich characters. After all, it seems to be the source of attention in many forms of entertainment, delivering a massive amount of drama, although the pieces of the puzzle rarely come together. Having won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and being submitted as Sweden's official Oscar entry into the "Best Foreign Language Category," writer/director Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure has been getting a lot of buzz. It isn't very often that such a decorated piece of filmmaking goes under the radar of the true movie buffs of the world. While not the absolute masterpiece that some claim it to be, this is a well-crafted film that asks a seemingly simple, yet an ultimately complex question.
A family decides to venture on a ski holiday in the French Alps in order to get away from the mundane. One day, the family is enjoying a lunch overlooking the beautiful mountains that surround them. They find themselves staring down an avalanche, and fearing for his life, father and husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) runs away, only to return in shame. In the aftermath, their marriage has been shaken to its core, as doubt hangs over the family.
Ebba, astonished at Tomas’ betrayal, comes to uncomfortable and unpleasant realizations about her family. She instigates several awkward encounters with other people at the resort when she tells them of her husband, and no one seems to believe her accusation of Tomas’ lost masculinity.
Tomas’ hurt pride gets him through denial, disdain for his wife and acceptance of the reality. Further unrelated events trample on his pride as an attractive alpha male and, finally, he has a mental breakdown and becomes desperate. Director Ruben Östlund implies that this is how society today views public displays of male weakness, a seemingly blank exterior with glee and disdain on the interior.
The film is stoic and artful in its compositions. That's rare in comedy. As a slow-burn melodrama, Force Majeure is expertly crafted. Cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel bathes most scenes in the drab lighting of the resort's interiors, establishing the superficiality of the couple's relationship even as it continues to crumble.
Force Majeure is a film that heavily relies on the performances of the two central leads. If they aren't represented accurately, then the entire picture could fall apart. Fortunately, Östlund has cast an impressive duo that manages to escalate the material to new levels. Johannes Kuhnke is a revelation as Tomas. He's so incredibly organic, that this hardly feels like a performance, but rather the capturing of a man's life. He displays quite the range, especially as he's forced to sit with the shame of abandoning his family. Lisa Loven Kongsli is excellent as Ebba. Much like Kuhnke's performance, it's entirely convincing. Each time she tries to describe what happened, she continues to break down a little bit further until the flood gates are wide open. Kuhnke and Kongsli are a powerhouse when they're on screen together, as they truly bring something special to the screen that is rarely experienced.
The film will hit close to home for many people in this ever-changing era of how feminism is viewed in relation to patriarchy and vice versa. Östlund manages to show the humiliating and degrading process of a man who loses his position in the society through Tomas, while at the same time demonstrating the shaky hold women have over their roles as society’s new front-runners.
This has to rank as one of the year's most unnerving dramas to hit the silver screen. It's a powerful depiction of manhood, marriage, and family. Writer/director Ruben Östlund asks all of the right questions in this fully realized drama that places the audience in the lives of Tomas and Ebba. Family dramas have been done, but never have they been exposed with such transparency. Even though the ending doesn't quite measure up to the remainder of the picture, this is a film that won't leave your mind any time soon. Force Majeure is tense, well-crafted, and impactful; truly a sight to behold. Highly recommended!