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Overview: A family deals with the aftermath of an avalanche. 2014, Magnolia Pictures, Rated R, 118 minutes.
Taste: I won’t give anything away in this review. I will just give you the same taste my brother-in-law gave to me when he told me about this film.
A family goes skiing together, and there is an avalanche. The mother clutches the children to her and shields them with her body. The father runs away. It turns out to be a minor avalanche, and everyone is safe. But the father ran away. The rest of the movie is about how each character deals with this. How do you deal with someone when you have seen their truest colours? How do you even begin the conversation about the incident? And if you’re the father, how do you handle the aftermath of your cowardice?
Ostlund: Director/writer Ruben Ostlund keeps the hysterics to a minimum (until a later hilarious scene) and focuses on the awkwardness of trying to discuss the incident when the father keeps telling everyone that he didn’t run away. The scenes in which strangers and friends have to witness the husband and wife (Tomas and Ebba) argue about what actually happened are cringe-worthy and hard to watch, but at the same time very funny as the others take sides and try to justify what happened.
The film is also gorgeous. Ostlund fills the space between acted scenes with vast cold vistas of snow-covered French mountains and the mechanical devices of the ski slope, all soundtracked by short bursts of Vivaldi’s Summer Concerto. He also uses a strict colour palette of reds, golden browns, oranges, and ambers for interior shots and whites and blues for the freezing exterior. Mirrors abound regularly, as do cramped spaces, and each time the family travels up the hill they take a different shaky conveyance.
Meaning: Symbolism and analogy fill the movie, and afterwards my wife and I found ourselves discussing the meaning of the whole thing. Is it a movie about manhood and masculinity? Or about a rocky marriage? Or about fear and fear’s contagious little sister, panic? By the time I went to bed I had convinced myself that it was about 9/11 and the Patriot Act (after I finish writing this review I will scour the internet to find an essay that proves me right).
Overall: Force Majeure is a fantastic movie. If I had seen this last year it would have been on my 2014 top ten. It is wonderfully acted with both leads perfectly embodying the awkward horror of their situations and trying to navigate each other. It is also very, very funny. Johannes Kuhnke, who plays Tomas, is an incredibly good crier, and delivers the biggest laughs. And even without the fantastic performances, it is stunningly beautiful to look at, the landscapes managing to be both inviting and full of danger.