Starring: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
While on holiday in the French Alps a seemingly perfect Swedish family are caught in an avalanche, though they are at a relatively safe distance and no one is hurt, husband and father Tomas (Kuhnke) cowardly runs away leaving his wife Ebba (Kongsli) and two children. Despite Tomas trying to deny the exact turn of events, it not only questions his position as the supposed patriarch of the family, but leads to revelations that threatens to tear apart both Tomas and Ebba’s marriage and the entire family.
A film’s poster, trailer and even title can sometimes be frustratingly misleading (usually because of cynical marketing bods wanting to get as many bums on seats as possible), well the trailers and poster for Force Majeure do not do the film justice, but then when a film is incredibly unique and its plot is a subtle and intelligent observation on human nature just like Force Majeure is, then that would indeed perhaps be hard to capture this in any poster or trailer.
Admittedly Force Majeure is a film that should be watched with as little known about the specifics of the plot as possible; it is a thought provoking dissection of many themes surrounding gender roles in 21st Century western culture and the fact is that it often provides more questions than answers means it best to witness some of the open ended plot points with no pre conceptions. The IMDB message boards prove just how thought provoking Force Majeure is, but yet the fact Ruben Östlund manages to provoke such fierce debate with a film that is often extremely subtle with its depiction of its themes is full credit to his skill as a filmmaker.
Film is at its very best when it explores extremely relatable themes that play a part in all our lives and makes us think, and whether we have experienced in real life what Tomas and Ebba experience in their marriage either ourselves directly or been a part of as a direct witness, there are themes that Force Majeure examines that we can all relate to in some way and apply to our own unique personal experiences, only enhancing its engagement.
Gender roles can be a particularly divisive subject, and full credit should go to Östlund for not only being willing to examine the themes that he does in Force Majeure, but how he does it. We are of course all flawed and a little selfish in our own way, and is not just the relationship between Tomas and Ebba that comes under scrutiny by the narrative, but also that of people that they know such as Ebba’s friend Charlotte (Karin Myrenberg) and Tomas’ friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his young girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius). All it can take to open up feelings of paranoia, self-doubt and trust issues with those closest to you is to plant the smallest seed, and the avalanche incident most certainly does that not just to Tomas and Ebba, bit those that they know. Tomas’ narrative journey to reclaim his masculinity is sometimes bleak, sometimes very isolated, often darkly comic and most certainly deeply compelling.
Many have complained about Force Majeure being described or marketed as a comedy, well though it seems these days unless a film contains a succession of cheap and obvious gags it cannot be called a comedy! Well comedy is of course a relative term and I would personally describe Force Majeure as a comedy-drama (but admittedly first and foremost a drama) as it has moments which are absolutely hilarious. The film’s subtle approach extends to the comedy and Östlund embraces the fact that in real life comedy often comes from bizarre and surreal situations. Different people may find different moments funny, in the same way that different people will have different interpretations of events in the narrative, and this is partly down to how much Östlund respects and trusts the intelligence of the audience. The film’s that are happy to trust the audience to come up with their own answers and interpretations to relatable themes and questions are often the most memorable and involving, and Force Majeure is a wonderful example of this. Admittedly the comedy provides nervous laughter and the comedy is a little dark, but the screening I went to did have a lot of laughs from the entire audience.
As a visual spectacle Force Majeure is also a superbly cinematic experience; Östlund utilises the dramatic mountain setting to create some stunning and unforgettable sequences, many of them often in one take. The avalanche sequence itself is the stand out, a wonderfully staged single unedited shot with a completely static camera, though there is always the risk of this feeling like style over substance, it only enhances the intensity of the scene.
Admittedly at 120 minutes Force Majeure is a little too long and ill disciplined, the narrative does at times feel a little episodic as it is frequently a collection of scenes. Though the scenes do all have their own relevance to the themes the film explores in varying ways but they are often clumsily put together with a black screen. The film’s final sequence will frustrate some, but there is no doubting that Force Majeure is a truly unique, original and intelligent film that certainly provokes ideas and discussions. It is best seen with several people as there is lots to discuss, but be warned; there will probably be arguments. If a film can provoke that, then for me that is only a good (and quite refreshing in this day and age) thing.
A truly cinematic tour-de-force; Force Majeure is a deeply intelligent, strikingly original, darkly comic and wonderfully cinematic exploration of some thought provoking, relevant and unforgettable themes and ideas.