A family on a ski holiday in the French Alps find themselves staring down an avalanche during lunch one day; in the aftermath, their dynamic has been shaken to its core, with a question mark hanging over their patriarch in particular.
‘Force Majeure’ is another intelligent drama to come out of Scandinavia, focusing on a Swedish family on a skiing holiday in the Alps when they get caught up in an avalanche. The catch is that the avalanche is controlled and no one comes to any harm, but during the incident the father, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) ran off, leaving his family behind. When he sheepishly returns moments later, the reverberations from this action come to the fore as both Tomas and his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), try to process what has happened, and what this means. The film is a deeply complex moral drama, and it lingers on this key incident to explore themes of gender, responsibility and instinct with earth shattering effects.
As a viewer (particularly someone with a family), this could be an uncomfortable watch as it asks you to consider how you would react in the situation, and whether that decision would be morally right or wrong. We all like to believe we’d do the ‘right’ or the honourable thing, but in the heat of the moment, would that be the case? The film poses an interesting moral question around self preservation versus helping others, particularly those closest, and to its credit never attempts to provide a definitive answer. The film explores these different threads, with an interesting slant put on the situation by a discussion between Tomas and Ebba, and their old friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his new girlfriend, which digs deeper into the character’s actions in a way that almost doubles for the viewer’s thought process.
The situation is complicated by Tomas reaction to the incident as he tries to deny anything out of the ordinary happened, and this appears to hurt Ebba just as much as the inciting event. Little is shown of Tomas and Ebba’s marriage beforehand, but it seems reasonable to assume that they are in a happy and loving relationship, and this serves to emphasise the rift caused by the perceived betrayal, and lack of honesty from Tomas in telling the truth. The film plays cleverly with gender roles, particularly in analysing the traditional role of the male as protector in the family dynamic, and whether this plays a part in informing each character’s reaction to the situation. The performances are excellent throughout, with leads Kuhnke and Kongsli leading the way with deft, subtle portrayals of characters whose life and marriage have been thrown out of sync, and director Ruben Östlund tortures them to maximum effect to create a tense and gripping portrayal of a fractured marriage.
‘Force Majeure’ is a stunningly clever psychological drama that will challenge the audience to think about its themes and central premise, well directed in a stunning setting with strong performances throughout – I highly recommend it.
Directed By: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Kristofer Hivju, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren and Fanni Metelius