Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Sharmill Films

The snow cannons which fire periodically at the French Alps ski resort -- the pristine yet chilly setting for writer-director Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure -- act as both a warning shot and as symbolic thunder for an impending emotional storm for the holidaying Swedish couple at the film's centre.

When a man-made avalanche barrels down the slopes and towards the outdoor restaurant where Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children are sitting down to lunch on day two of their week-long vacation, curiosity soon turns to fear as it looks as though the controlled snow dump may actually wipe the restaurant out.

Faced with a 'fight or flight' decision in the oncoming avalanche, Tomas makes the wrong choice: grabbing his iPhone and running; leaving Ebba and the kids to fend for themselves. It's a decision which results in a series of emotional aftershocks that will have Tomas and Ebba questioning what kind of people they are and what kind of marriage they have.

At first the couple don't discuss what happened but it's eating away at Ebba (every emotion playing across Kongsli's face). In the company of fellow vacationers at dinner, she recounts the events and Tomas's actions. Tomas, in his defense, says that's not what happened but each is entitled to their own perception.

But it's when hosting a dinner party for visiting friends Mats (Kristover Hivju) and Fanny (Fanni Metelius), where Ebba again raises the issue -- and forces Tomas to confront his actions -- that a seismic shift in the relationship occurs.

Ostlund's black-ish comedy takes an unblinking look (Fredrik Wenzel's camera is always still, observant) at the emotional fall-out of this event; raising questions about masculinity as both a genetic predisposition and a social construct. Does man's desire to survive outweigh his desire to protect his offspring? Is it the role of the man or simply a parent to protect those offspring? Is a man defined by his words or his deeds? And by whom is he more harshly judged -- society or himself -- when he fails to live up to these responsibilities?

Amusingly, after trying valiantly to defend his friend's honour, Mats (who resembles a Viking but believes himself to be a 'sensitive new age guy') begins to question his own masculinity, and what he would have done in the exact same situation.

Indeed, Force Majeure -- Sweden's submission for this year's Oscars (Best Foreign Language Film), and already a prize winner at Cannes (Un Certain Regard) -- may not be a wise choice as a 'date' film but it makes for a great debate film: whose side are you on? What would you have done in Tomas's situation? Or what do you think you would have done? Careful now, it's tricky out on the slopes.

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