Force Majeure 

UK Release Date 17th April 2015
Director Rubin Ostlund
Starring Swedish people
Runtime 120 minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 12th May 2015

The term ‘Force Majeure’ will forever remind me of the documentary of Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated quest to make a film of Don Quixote – Lost in La Mancha.  Everything that could go wrong did and the ‘force majeure’ was a freak weather landslide.The term ‘Force Majeure’ has two meanings:

1.  Superior or overpowering force.

2. Irresistible force or compulsion such as will excuse a party from performing his or her part of a contract

Both of those meanings are applicable here in this Force Majeure. A taut, micro examination of the cracks within a seemingly perfect family by Swedish writer/director Rubin Ostland. 

A photographer is taking pictures on the slopes of a stunning and exclusive French resort of our perfect Swedish family - Tomas and Ebba our beautiful parents and Harry and Vera, their perfect children.  From a distance one would assume this is a perfect family indeed.  They are extremely attractive, they clearly have lots of money, they are a four unit perfect family (one boy one girl).  However as Ostland pushes the camera in closer the cracks are clear to see even before the major incident that launches the family hurtling in their own emotional avalanche to an unknown point. A split second selfish decision begins a force majeure of it’s own in the fractious relationship of a seemingly faultless family.

Force Majeure is a master class in taut drama, coupled with beautiful shots and searing insights into the Swedish elite.  One cannot help but call to mind Michael Haneke who is also fond of these aesthetics but Ostland’s film is anoriginal. At the centre of it all are Tomas and Ebba, beautifully played by Johannes Kunck and Lisa Loven Kongsli.  Kongsli in particular is simply outstanding as mum Ebba who is clearly at the end her tether with man-child Tomas.  Ostland is so clever at the subtlety in which he shows the cracks.  Children’s ski poles clatter to the ground where it is assumed Ebba will pick them up, Tomas constantly sneaking looks at his work phone, Harry’s high level of emotionality coupled with Vera’s calm beyond her years. It is at all times simply riveting drama. Ostlund keeps the camera close enough we can see them breathe.  

Tomas and Ebba's relationship itself could also be described as a controlled avalanche. The fact that the couple are in a hotel room with their two children means they never have anyone to talk properly, expert out in the hallway in the early hours of the morning, usually observed by the smoking hotel cleaner. Small children means life has to go on, feelings have to be contained and pushed to one side to present normality but children are more astute than their parents realise.  A chance at reconciliation is quashed y the appearance of a child.  It is hard to have small children. It is hard to survive. 

Three other people drift into the lives of Tomas and Ebba throughout our story.  Charlotte, who has no problem with sleeping around and a friend of Tomas, Mats (Kristover Hivju, a Swedish Zach Galinafikis) who is on his second relationship with a younger woman, Fanni.  The couple experience the brunt of the breakdown of Tomas and Ebba first hand and of course this causes much (most of it very funny) examination of their own relationship.  Charlotte is there to confront Ebba, to show us that despite Ebba's dissatisfaction with her husband she is still at heart traditionally and she is still at heart in love with Tomas. 

Ostlund is not taking sides in terms of the male/female balance in Force Majeure.  Despite Tomas coming across as the more flawed, weaker character in general, the film is nicely balanced with cross types of both sexes. Ostlund presents varying viewpoints of love and sex and sits back to let the audience decide.  Of course he is throwing stones against the glass of the elite classes and the reflection and presentation of perfection but he is doing so still allowing the audience to come to a viewpoint all of their own.  Very refreshing indeed.  

Force Majeure is stuffed to the gills with sublime photography. The stunning landscape of course makes is hard cock this up but still  Ostland and DP Fredrik Wensel have created some truly dazzling moments.  Reflections play a big part and the colour palate is a mostly muted blue/grey tone, the colours widening somewhat as the couple deteriorate.  It’s a ravishing watch. 

 The overall tone from Ostlund is one of icy calm but he does make sure we are all awake with some truly jarring moments that can’t help but make one sit up and take notice.  A drone zooms in at a most tense moment in discussion, a scene of Tomas suddenly ending up with some hard drinking Swedes (if they are Swedes) in a crazy nightclub is as out of pace and jarring as it could be. Tomas and Mats having a moment of calm in deckchairs après ski becomes threatening after Tomas thinks he is the butt of a young woman’s joke.  Ostlund constantly placates and then provokes.  

The final act is bold and ambitious, with the family again facing another potentially life threatening danger. It is vast, tense and cinematic and leaves us with no doubt as to what direction the family are heading in now.  Seems they’ve worked it all out.  However knowing what I’ve learned from Ostland, I wouldn't be so sure.....

In Short:

A master class in bewitching, tense satirical drama from Rubin Ostlund. Force Majeure is a force to be reckoned with.  Superbly acted, it is uncomfortable, challenging and thought provoking viewing set against a spectacularly cinematic backdrop.  Go see it -  if you’re brave enough!




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