Force Majeure (2014)
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren
Plot: A family on a ski holiday in the French Alps find themselves staring down an avalanche during lunch one day; in the aftermath, their dynamic has been shaken to its core, with a question mark hanging over their patriarch in particular.
Awards: Won Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes). Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Foreign Language Feature
Rating: Not rated (likely to be NC16 for some language and brief nudity)
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: MILD)
We have not had many memorable Swedish films in the last few years. We might have to go back to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010) or Let the Right One In (2008) for some really impressive ones. But those are more audience-pleasing fare, though you cannot deny that they are also critically-acclaimed. Force Majeure, together with the Venice Golden Lion winning A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) by Roy Andersson, comes at a time when Swedish cinema needs a little credibility boost.
Short of what would have been a deserved Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature, Force Majeure is strikingly original in its treatment. It dissects in honest detail the beginning of an end – of marriage, of family, perhaps of masculinity, and maybe of femininity.
It is a biting family drama (for adults) that explores the problem of gender roles and expectations, and the ambiguous implications surrounding one particular family, where all may seem right (as its opening sequence would attest), but deep down, as critic Tony Macklin puts it, the film is really about “the human condition under assault.”
Starring Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli (both more prominent in Scandinavian television) as husband and wife respectively, Force Majeure centers on their family trip with two kids to the French Alps. Amid the skiing, while dining in a rooftop restaurant one afternoon, a controlled avalanche unexpectedly (and disconcertingly) sweeps past.
That is the instigator for director Ruben Ostlund's slow but biting picture. I shall let you discover how the 'trauma' of this event affects everyone in the family psychologically. In essence, Force Majeure transcends the notion of trauma, into something darker and pre-conceived, maybe even deep-rooted.
The performances by the lead couple are first-rate. There are raw emotions involved, with some truly powerful scenes. Aside from the performances, the film is very beautifully shot in a sea of white. The snow-covered slopes not only provide both natural colour and backdrop, but also in creating a tight atmosphere with unexpected tension and intrigue.
The epilogue comes across as bizarre, but revealing of the power dynamics between men and women, and possibly implicating both genders for their woes. In sum, Force Majeure is slow, tense and fascinating to experience, just like sitting on a ski lift.
Verdict: Beautifully shot in the French Alps, this slow but honest and biting family drama will satisfy mature audiences looking for a thought-provoking and original film about gender roles and expectations.
GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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