Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: ‘Force Majeure’
Force Majeure is a disaster movie, but not the one you expect. It is about an avalanche that hits a ski resort, but it passes quickly and everyone is okay. The disaster that ensues is a personal crisis between a husband and wife who behaved very differently when they went into fight or flight mode.
Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are on vacation with their kids. During lunch overlooking the mountain, an avalanche approaches the resort and consumes it. Tomas, who believed it a small controlled blast anyway, grabs his things and runs inside while Ebba stays with the kids. Then the snow dissipates and everything is fine until they recount the story in an awkward dinner with another couple.
Even though this act of God didn’t harm anyone, it revealed a difference in behavior that will compromise Tomas and Ebba’s marriage. It begins as a silly he said/she said argument where Tomas resents being accused of abandoning his family, and sucks other couples in when they’re forced to take sides and then ruin their night debating hypotheticals.
You can’t dismiss this argument though, because Ebba is dealing with a near-death experience and feeling abandoned. Tomas’s best shot may have been to just apologize for panicking, even admit he didn’t know why he reacted that way. That humility might have earned back a little trust, but then that’s not what he says. And how could he? That’s admitting he abandoned his family.
Writer/director Ruben Ostlund is able to explore this multi-faceted philosophical crisis. In some respects it is a generational argument, and very obviously a male/female one. His script is perceptive about human behavior, and shows how sensitive men can be. The tension of several conversations is palpable. It’s no Before Midnight, but it is intense.
Ultimately I wouldn’t say Force Majeure is ambiguous. It seems to definitively side against Tomas, in this situation at least. But the poignant insight of Force Majeure is that just when you’re totally against Tomas, it adds complexity to the situation. Complexity rather than ambiguity, so it gives you a definitive thesis and lets you know it didn’t get there frivolously.
Force Majeure is shot beautifully too. Sequences of the snow whiting out the screen and slowly revealing shapes underneath are stunning. Another great sequence remains still as ski lifts pass by in the background. One whole shot it centered around four characters looking at a cell phone and it totally works.
This does seem like a terrible vacation spot though. Any resort that continually creates life endangering situations that provoke philosophical discourse should get some serious Yelp reviews. For our sake though, Force Majeure asks fascinating questions that play out in challenging dramatic scenes. Maybe watch it alone though. I wouldn’t want to get into it with a date, but for the record, I’d die for you, baby.