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Force Majeure - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published September 19th 2014
A different kind of disaster movie
Director: Ruben Ostlund (Play, Involuntary, Gitarrmongot)
Cast: Lisa Loven Kongsli, Johannes Kuhnke, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

Sometimes a film can offer so much more than suggested by its premise. Such a case is Force Majeure, the story of a marriage that is tested after a husband shows his true colours in a moment of life threatening danger. With the French Alps as a dramatic backdrop, this gorgeously photographed film is a fascinating rumination on the nature of human relationships.

force majeure
Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) struggle to comprehend the day's events

Ebba and Tomas are a Swedish couple on vacation with their kids in the Alps. Over lunch while taking in a stunning vista, an avalanche appears and hurtles towards them. While Ebba's natural instinct is to gather her children and huddle under the table, Tomas makes a dash to save himself. It's a moment of truth similar to that in The Loneliest Planet, but explored here with much more depth and resonance.

It transpires that the avalanche narrowly avoids their dining spot and after a thick blanket of snow dust has rolled through, they are safe. The repercussions of Tomas' actions though, linger long after. At first there is just shock and confusion, but insidiously an anger takes a hold of Ebba. What ensues is a hellish holiday in paradise for all concerned.

force majeure
The avalanche scene is a standout technical achievement.

Writer/director Ruben Ostlund has crafted a remarkable portrait of a couple at the crossroads. Ebba questions the worth of staying with a man who is evidently willing to sacrifice his wife and children for his own safety, while Tomas struggles to confront his own values and behaviour. For those around them, including two friends staying at the same resort, hypotheticals abound about how each person would react if placed in the same situation. Ebba's conversations with another vacationing woman with very different attitudes towards her own marriage also provide interesting food for thought.

These engrossing exchanges are intercut with shots of sweeping snowy peaks and valleys set to the dramatic chords of Vivaldi's Winter movement from The Four Seasons. It's bracing stuff.

force majeure
Dental hygiene becomes an increasingly chilly mood barometer

Tense it may be, but Force Majeure (the title proves very apt) is never melodramatic. The drama feels completely organic and is infused with moments of quiet humour. Although the final sequence feels like an unnecessary addition, in all other respects this is a masterful film. It's a joy to watch and will surely generate plenty of post-film discussion.

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Why? Prize winning film from the 2014 Cannes Film Festival
Where: At selected cinemas
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