World Cinema Wednesday: Force Majeure (2014)
A quick browse around reveals two main definitions of the phrase “force majeure”. The first is a term used in a common legal clause, describing unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract. The second is irresistible compulsion or superior strength. And both definitions explain the title for this movie.
The film revolves around a family who are on a skiing holiday. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are the father and mother, respectively, and the son and daughter, Harry and Vera, are played by Vincent and Clara Wettergren. Initially, things seem perfect for this family unit. That’s until day two of the holiday, when an avalanche starts heading towards the restaurant in which they are dining. Although it stops just before reaching the petrified people, it causes a reaction from Tomas that confounds Ebba and leads her to question his values, and whether or not they remain compatible as husband and wife.
Despite the dramatic thrust of Force Majeure, it’s worth noting that it also contains a fine seam of black comedy running throughout most scenes. The actual avalanche moment that changes the entire dynamic of the movie made me laugh aloud. There’s also something inherently funny about the main themes being explored, in terms of both rigid attitudes and the execution of the material. The film is about courage and love, but it’s largely about the perceived traits that make a man . . . . . . well, a man.
Kuhnke and Kongsli are both very good in the lead roles, whether being affectionate with one another or creating friction, and the Wettergen kids also do a very good job of portraying children who are reacing to a fluctuating family environment, often bemused by both the atmosphere around them and their own feelings. Kristofer Hivju also does well, playing a friend who tries to create a peace between the two arguing leads, an intervention that ends up leading to questions about his own behaviour, in a wryly-amusing ripple effect.
Writer/director Ruben Östlund, who seems to have been putting together a solid filmography of features and shorts for about fifteen years now (and I’ll be hoping to dig into some more of his work), knows exactly how to walk a thin line between absurdity, tension, and honesty. It’s a fine blend, allowing the movie to make a number of salient points, raising some interesting questions, and letting the performances move all around any moral spectrum that viewers may bring to the proceedings.
I heartily recommend this movie, although don’t blame me if you watch it with a partner and end up having some uncomfortable conversations once it’s over.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: RUBEN ÖSTLUND
STARS: JOHANNES KUHNKE, LISA LOVEN KONGSLI, VINCENT WETTERGREN, CLARA WETTERGREN, KRISTOFER HIVJU
RUNTIME: 120 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: SWEDEN, FRANCE, DENMARK, NORWAY