Force Majeure (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
While Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children are having a meal at a ski resort, an icy avalanche comes running their away. Initially, everybody thought it was pretty and quite a sight from afar, but as it got closer, people began to realize that they could be buried underneath the heavy snow. Panic takes over and Tomas runs away from the table, leaving his family behind. But the avalanche is a controlled one and no harm is done ultimately. However, Ebba cannot believe that the man she married made a decision to abandon rather than to try and save his family.
“Force Majeure,” written and directed by Ruben Östlund, sets up an interesting premise but its inclination toward the bizarre often gets the way of telling a story that requires no hyperbolic gestures because all the elements are already present to make a compelling drama. Instead, it uses booming classical music during transitions, dramatizes what should be an emotional catharsis, and a third act so wanting to be impressive symbolically that I thought it verged on pretension.
The best scenes involve Ebba retelling what happened during that fateful lunch. There are two scenes: one to her husband and the other to her friends (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius). Knolls does a wonderful job in showing a balance of hurt, anger, and confusion. We feel the betrayal she is going through even though there is a voice in the back of our minds that maybe she is being too hard on her husband. The screenplay is wise to introduce a different opinion: that the husband is perhaps not a coward given that it is in our nature as human beings to want to survive given a life or death situation.
Equally powerful are the reactions of the children (Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren). Even though they do not get very many or important lines, it is communicated clearly that they understand the schism in their parents’ once loving relationship. Credit to the writer-director for not having to explain the mindset of the children. What they are thinking is communicated through their behavior. When the kids scream or yell, we are snapped into paying attention to their needs.
When a movie functions on a high level since the very beginning, it is often a challenge to find a way to end the picture on a note that comes across exactly right. Östlund does not reach such an equally effective third act or ending. It meanders and I caught myself checking the time and wondering when the movie would finally be over. It could have been more efficient; two hours felt like a stretch.
“Turist” may challenge some viewers, which is a positive quality, because it is not about plot but about behavior. Tomas does not remember running away from his family as the avalanche approached. Is he lying or is he telling the truth? The material does not provide an answer, but we can surmise through the way he acts around his wife. Does he look her in the eye when he speaks to her? When he speaks, is his vocal range higher or lower than usual? How much is the distance between his body and hers? These are things we are required to pay attention to and I liked that quality. Thus, even though I was not happy with its final twenty minutes, I am still giving the film a marginal recommendation.