Featuring: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius
Director: Ruben Östlund
Screenwriter: Ruben Östlund
Movie Website: www.magpictures.com/forcemajeure/
Verdict: A well-acted, mostly well-written and beautifully shot piece, marred by a couple of jarring and mystifying scenes
A Swedish family – successful husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), his luscious wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two kids (a boy and girl, completing an image of the perfect nuclear family) – are seated at a table at a top-floor restaurant of a luxe ski resort, looking out over the snowfields. The weather is gorgeous, their food has arrived, they are at the beginning of their hols and everything is dandy – then there is a rumble and a tsunami of snow rolls down towards them from on high. Controlled, assures hubby/daddy. But the rumbling builds and the snow looms up at them. Screams, the mother covering her kids with her body as best she can as the world turns white, visibility zero. Dad? Um, well…
This is not an original scenario, but the treatment of the doubts and hurt the father’s actions trigger in his wife and their children, his denial of his instinct-driven flight response, and his struggle to redeem himself, powers the movie to its conclusion, and is mostly superbly managed. Layer by layer, husband and wife reveal the turmoil lurking within. It’s a slow psychological strip tease, protracted but gripping, and culminating in a dramatic meltdown in which Tomas confronts the uncomfortable (and somewhat unconvincing) reality that he is a base creature enslaved to his primal instincts. A bit OTT. Well, more than a bit.
As is a baffling and jarring drunken bloke-bonding scene in the nocturnal snow outside a tavern that engulfs Tomas like an avalanche, erupting out of nowhere and seemingly having no other function but to emphasise the primal in the Swedish male (and by extension, males everywhere). One of those moments of ‘poetry’ that editors should strive to temper.
The skiing environment is most beautifully captured. The hissing of the skis carving through the powdery virgin snow, the enchanting enveloping quiet, the sense of natural perfection, will raise hairs on the arms of anyone who has experienced a snowfield in full splendour. Yet, as with the characters, there is always the sense that beneath the gorgeous white placidity lies danger, ugliness, mortal threat. This is enhanced by a refrain of unsettling booms throughout, issuing from periscope-like funnels in the mountainside intended to safeguard against avalanches by dislodging build-ups of loose snow. The plans of mice and men…
The performances are top notch, and while the piece is slow-paced, it is engrossing throughout, with most of the action in the well-steered dialogue between Tomas and Ebba as they negotiate an emotional minefield en route to resolving that which separates and threatens to tear them apart for good.
The ending is perplexing, and like a couple of other mystifying scenes, its purpose is not clear. It could be irritating for some, while others might be moved to engage in some lively post-viewing discussion.
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