Force Majeure (2014)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on January 5, 2015 @ tonymacklin.net.

Force Majeure is the film that probably caused more intense discussion by viewers leaving the theater in 2014.

Not just Swedish viewers - universal viewers.

Force Majeure is a battle of the sexes, and a battle between controlled forces and uncontrolled ones. It's the human condition under assault.

How do you care about the characters - a bourgeois family of two parents and two young children on vacation in the French Alps?

You probably don't. But it's the themes they manifest that provoke our involvement and perhaps acrid disagreement with one another.

For most of us, trust is a primary, dominant value. Force Majeure asks what happens when trust is obliterated? How do we react? How can a relationship survive "betrayal" and the destructive, indulgent aftermath that follows it?

It's easy to have certainty about untested values. Our societies run on them. Patriotism, religion, status.

Force Majeure begins with a family in postcard bliss. They're on a vacation that seems ideal. They're a generic family - father Tomas (Johannes Bah Luhnke), mother Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children Harry and Vera (Vincent and Clara Wettergren).

They are well-to-do, but there's nothing distinctive about them.

But when they're having brunch at a table on a terrace at a resort, terror strikes. Blandness vanishes.

They witness an avalanche approaching. Tomas says it's "controlled," but it seems uncontrolled, and all alpine hell breaks loose.

A shroud of white envelops the people on the terrace. Tomas runs in the white murk.

At that moment, emotions are uncontrolled. People are frantic in the fiercesome face of unknown, threatening power.

After the threat dissipates, Tomas returns to the table, but damage - maybe irrevocable - has been done. Damage is in control of the couple's relationship.

Did Tomas run away? Was he a coward?

Ebba won't let it go. She becomes a fierce adversary of her husband. Tomas does not accept her version of events on the terrace. She demands that he admit culpability. He won't.

Later Ebba tells another couple about her husband's actions. She's like a force of nature - relentless and implacable.

Words can have a greater impact than an avalanche. Words reveal jagged ice beneath the seemingly pristine surface.

Sometimes you shouldn't speak.The truth is overrated.

Ebba can't stop her verbal attack. She adamantly continues it in front of another couple who visit Tomas and her in their hotel room. The couple is a red-bearded, divorced man Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and a younger woman Fanni (Fanni Metellus). Mats tries to defend Tomas.

He pays for the attempted defense. Later by an elevator, Fanni says to Mats that, like Tomas, he would run. In bed, Mats can't let go of her words. Fanni keeps telling him to "go to sleep," but he is unable to forget her insulting words. The toxin has been planted.

The family of Tomas and Ebba is in severe disorder. Earlier, when they were arguing, their two children were snippy and dismissive of their parents.

Finally Tomas collapses emotionally on the floor, and then his children attempt to give him solace. How much is guilt and how much is he indulging himself?

Then the family goes back on the slopes. Another shroud of blinding whiteness descends. Is Tomas going to get a chance to act differently?

Is a family a patriarchy, a matriarchy, up for grabs, or lost to human vulnerability?

In Force Majeure, writer/director Ruben Ostlund lets loose an avalanche of human impulses. He bares human emotion - both male and female - in conflict. I've said that hypocrisy is the nature of mankind. It seems Ostlund may agree.

Fredrik Wendzel's evocative cinematography is both chilling and serene.

Near the end of Force Majeure there's a scene on a bus that is blatant irony, but no character in the film comments on it. Maybe they have learned the value of silence.

Force Majeure leaves the audience like the walking crowd in the film. We have the decision of where to go.

Into the avalanche?

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