A Swedish family travels to the French Alps to enjoy a few days of skiing. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular but, during a lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche turns everything upside down. With diners fleeing in all directions, mother Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) calls for her husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) as she tries to protect their children. Tomas, meanwhile, is running for his life... The anticipated disaster fails to occur, but the family's world has been shaken to its core, a question mark hanging over their father in particular. Tomas and Ebba's marriage now hangs in the balance as Tomas struggles desperately to reclaim his role as family patriarch.
Review by Louise Keller:
Set in the spectacular French Alps, the avalanche that occurs at the beginning of the film is not the only dramatic occurrence. Moreover, the avalanche is symbolic of the chain of events that follows - namely a cascading landslide of human emotions that questions one's instincts and actions, impacting on perceptions. Perceptions of oneself as well as those of others. Swedish director Ruben Ostlund has written a story that plays out in some ways like a docu-drama, when the primitive instinctive force of man is put under the microscope. While engaging much of the time - and the snowy setting is gorgeous - the pace is slow, with long pauses, which occasionally distract somewhat from the snowballing tension and friction between the characters.
The opening scene shows an outwardly happy family posing for photos in the snow. The setting is breathtaking: the clear sky is a perfect cobalt blue and the snow pristine. The Swedish family comprising Thomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two young children Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren), are clearly enjoying their skiing holiday together. The avalanche that triggers the chain of events occurs early in the film when the family is sitting at an outdoor restaurant and descends so quickly, confusion reigns. It is Thomas' reaction during the avalanche that becomes the focus. Suddenly everything is different: the children are irritable, Ebba cannot accept what has happened and Thomas closes up like a clam. But it is not only Ebba and the children who are disappointed in Thomas' instincts.
I like the way Ostlund involves other characters - the scenes when Ebba explains what happens to two other couples play out in a totally different way. All the while the frenetic violins of Vivaldi's Four Seasons agitate as the emotional angst grows, communication becomes more strained and the glue that holds the family together becomes unstuck. Thomas gets the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his family much later in the film, while the final scene is somewhat ambiguous, leaving us hanging - or at least allowing us with plenty of mental space to examine what has gone before. The emotional heart of the film is powerful; it's a shame that its entirety does not work equally well.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In the split second that danger becomes imminent, a father turns from his wife and two little children to flee for safety. Moments later, the danger gone, he returns as if nothing had happened. But much had. On this premise Ruben Ostlund has built a scenario in which the family begins to disintegrate as a result of this moment.
It's not an original idea for a film, the aftershocks of an almost imperceptible betrayal of trust, and it's a valid subject for exploration, as a real part of the human condition. Do we really know how we would ourselves react? Pass not judgement too quickly, says the film.
Set in the French alps, the scenery is beautiful and the skiing scenes serene.
The performances are uniformly excellent, including the two little kids, as the echo of the moment resonates within them all. For Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), it's at first a mistaken perception by his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), but gradually he has to face the fact he did indeed run off. It eats away at him until it erupts like a rotten pimple full of pus, in a scene of visceral self-loathing; it's not his only weakness, he screams in pain.
If only the film were as dramatically dynamic and somewhat more economical in its style, it may have been a powder keg. Perhaps in an attempt at understatement, Ostlund gives the film a lazy pace with too many meaningless observational shots that linger beyond their usefulness. The frequent use of a steady frame within which the action takes place gives it a stilted quality and we never quite connect with the characters enough to care as much as we should.
The resolution of the emotional crises seems manufactured, and the final sequence on a tourist coach driven by an incompetent idiot also. These moments drag the film down, despite all its potential.
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FORCE MAJEURE (M)
CAST: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren
PRODUCER: Erik Hemmendorff, Marie Kjelson
DIRECTOR: Ruben Ostlund
SCRIPT: Ruben Ostlund
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fredrik Wenzel
EDITOR: Jacob Secher Schlusinge
MUSIC: Ola Flottum
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 16, 2014; special advance screenings October 10, 11, 12, 2014