Movie Review: Force Majeure

Although its overstretched to fit its plot, Force Majeure’s narrative, cinematography and cast makes it a thought provoking piece about marriage, traditional roles, and human nature.

A Swedish family travels to the French Alps to enjoy a few days of skiing and spend some precious time with each other. 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 calls for her husband Tomas as she tries to protect their children. Tomas, meanwhile, is running for his life. Reality returns to embarrassed laughter, the anticipated disaster having failed to occur, and yet 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.

Force Majeure is an instant northern European cinematic classic.

The smart narrative is similar to that of The Loneliest Planet but there’s something more compelling to watch as we find out that the picture of a posh happy family is not what it appears to be.

As the story progresses, the movie gradually shows the effect of an incident on the couple and their marriage. Instead of a convenient dramatic exposition, the ripple is shown through everyday routine. The truth unspools in realistic ways that reflects the sad truth about people and relationships.

Tomas doesn’t want to admit that he abandoned his family in what could have been a catastrophic avalanche, clouding the argument with a classic rhetoric you would hear from a busted boyfriend or husband – there are two sides to the story and he’s a prey to his instincts. Ebba hesitates to deal with the issue on her own, spilling it out when a third party is present instead in an attempt to squeeze an admission out of Tomas. His best friend gets caught in the fray as the situation can also apply to him, especially with fact that he’s divorced and on a ski trip with a woman half his age.

The cast delivers great performances with a familiar Game of Thrones character. The acting here looks natural, which makes it all the more affecting and hard to watch. The characterization isn’t pre-determined and develops gradually. In the beginning you’ll  know that Tomas isn’t exactly a solid patriarch. But Force Majeure is more than just about a cheating husband and a silent suffering wife.

The magnificent montages of the french alps and its well maintained slopes provide a relief from the family drama. Vivaldi’s “Summer” adds a sense of urgency. The camerawork matches the approach of the narrative as it enables the audience to observe the family from a good distance and deconstruct the plot.

In the tradition of northern European films Force Majeure delves into the mundane to show the complexities of people and relationships. The movie can be interpreted in different ways. I daresay its about traditional roles and how people end up projecting false pretenses in an attempt to maintain them. The avalanche is a metaphor for how the narrative builds and swells, as well as how the relationship of the married couple is forced into a breaking point. Tomas and Ebba crafts an ideal image in front of their kids through established roles, until a defining moment swallows them both and reveal the cracks underneath this middle class family.

Mainstream audiences will no doubt find this challenging to watch. The plot is obviously stretched and mixed with pretty images that would look repetitive for the impatient. It straddles the line between artsy film with an obscure weak plot and artsy film with something thoughtful to say in spite of the wispy plot.

Still, Force Majeure does have something to say. It’s a family drama, quasi thriller, and a revealing examination of human nature’s sad truth about self-preservation. In the end, the movie throws another curve ball at the couple and we are reminded that nothing is simple in a marriage.

My Rating: 9/10

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