Natural disasters tend to bring the worst out of people. For Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), he’s enjoying a beautiful five-day vacation getaway with his family; wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), daughter Vera (Clara Wettergren), and son Henry (Vincent Wettergren). What to do when in the gorgeous French Alps? Ski, to the heart’s content.
While taking in lunch on day two, a mild avalanche is seen from the deck of the restaurant. In a matter of seconds, it quickly pivots to severe, and everyone panics as a result. Thankfully, the avalanche only left behind heavy haze. No one is seriously hurt, though the damage has been done. For it was Tomas who completely abandoned his parental post to save his own hide, leaving wife and kids to presumably fend for themselves. The tenor of the trip is irrevocably changed, as is how Tomas’ family views him and, over time, he himself.
What better time to talk about 2014/2015’s better films than now? Yeah, yours truly is extremely late to the party, but with the incoming Downfall, an Americanized remake of the Swedish Force Majeure, it’s long past time for me to finally check this out. The awesome benefit of streaming stalwarts such as Hulu (available now) and Netflix. Force Majeure is one of those films in which its summary vastly undersells its quality and expectations.
First and foremost, Force Majeure is visually pristine, as pure and fresh as the snow powder on the aux Arcs resort director Ruben Östlund shoots on. His prior experience creating ski movies shows. The game-changing moment that puts the rest of the movie in motion happens to be nothing less than aesthetically arresting, armed with assistance from cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel. So too are less involved scenes where characters are taking in the slopes, traversing wintry Mother Nature, or simply having heated disagreements over what did and didn’t happen. On a micro-budget reportedly less than two million, it’s continued evidence that movie magic can come out of any price tag.
Calling Force Majeure completely character/actor-driven wouldn’t be accurate, but it doesn’t dampen the quality of work the cast puts out. Kuhnke gets the lion’s share of development, evolving from an alpha-suave, forward protector to a dopey, self-doubting and indirect individual. He, along with Kristofer Hivju are responsible for some of the film’s dark humor (but this carrying the tag of “comedy” is a stretch). The back and forth with Kuhnke and Kongsli makes up a fairly significant chunk of run-time, highlighted by an uncomfortably awkward dinner scene with another “couple” that will always rank high in the pantheon of memorable scenes taking place at a table.
Force Majeure is especially impressive once one realizes that’s its story, written by Östlund, is loosely tied around viral moments curated from YouTube. Within and outside those moments exist philosophical ruminations I certainly wasn’t anticipating but gladly welcomed. Man versus woman, what our natural reaction to stimuli happens to be as a result of what we define ourselves as, and monogamy versus open relationships are all questions posed in the movie that allow Force Majeure staying power after viewing. With that said, Force Majeure is very good, not great. If Östlund either ended the movie 15-20 minutes prior to when he does, and/or reworked how things conclude, we’d be looking at something that may have universally registered as one of the best films of the past decade. As the final 20 minutes play out, there are two false endings that segue into the true ending, which lacks the finality the others would have gave.
Even with a lukewarm ending, Force Majeure packs a lot of power and panache around a slalom of interesting life questions. A beautiful disaster.
Photo credits go to IMDB.com, impawards.com, and collider.com.
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