Film Review: FORCE MAJEURE, (2014)
A stylishly directed and photographed story about a picture-perfect Swedish family - the handsome husband (Tomas) and his beautiful willowy wife (Ebba) with their two charming blond kids, a boy and a girl - is depicted with a subtle delicacy which renders their small intimate interactions in a completely natural up close and personal manner. Against the spectacularly stark beauty of the snow-covered mountains there is evoked a looming sense of danger. All of the scenes on the slopes show vast seemingly virgin, trackless mountains devoid of other skiers. The filmmaker, having introduced us to the pattern and pace of the family, then shatters it all with the central incident which happens on day two. I will not reveal it, but to say that it is pretty terrifying, but not as it seems. It is the way the family members react at the moment of perceived danger which looms large over the rest of the film, changes the entire family dynamic and threatens to destroy them as a unit. The children have clearly been traumatized, but unable to verbalize their complicated feelings withdraw into themselves. In contrast, Ebba finds her voice, and really goes at Tomas with a ferocity which made me think of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The more she turns the knife the more fuel she finds to really goad Tomas, who is totally blindsided by the turn of events. He remembers it differently.
Clearly the “incident” ruptured the surface of the ideal marriage and family. Tomas, completely on the defensive, is so broken that he becomes a helpless emasculated, untethered shadow of himself while Ebba unleashes every unvoiced emotion she has been storing. And then, as if to dig himself deeper, Tomas reveals infidelities and unsavory details of his past which only add to his sense of worthlessness. Once he acknowledges the truth of his actions he surrenders himself up to Ebba’s judgement without a defense.
There are lighter moments when Ebba insists on mortifying Tomas in front of another couple who are in a pretty tenuous relationship. The questions which are raised insinuate themselves into the examination of their friends’ relationship as well. This is an intelligent and layered psychological drama which has enough tension interspersed with comic moments to keep it from taking itself too seriously while still raising some serious issues such as questioning the accepted wisdom of gender roles and reality.
The final incident makes a fairly obvious use of nature again as a fearsome “force majeure” against which man can prove himself or reveal his weakness. In this case it leaves open the possibility that equilibrium of some sort may be achieved between Ebba and Tomas. I’m not sure which side Ostlund is taking.
Review by Belle McIntyre