The story opens with Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) speaking to fellow tourist at a ski resort in the French Alps. Ebba is there with her family as her husband Thomas (Johannes Kuhnke) works too much and is finally going to dedicate 5 days to her and the kids while her confidant is on a break from her husband.
The key event in the film occurs on the second day of the family trip. The family is having lunch on an outdoor terrace when a controlled avalanche starts on the mountain. The avalanche gathers speed causing panic on the balcony and Thomas to flee saving his smart phone and ski gloves leaving Ebba to protect the kids. The event has a severe impact on all of the family members that they now have to work through for the rest of the vacation.
Writer Director Ruben Ostlund creates a fascinating family relationship study. The children Vera ( Clara Wettergren) and her younger brother Harry (Vincent Wettergren) don't speak and do not want anything to do with either of their parents immediately after the incident. Ebba does not know how to react and most noticeably Thomas is unable to process the consequences of his act.
The next day on the slopes is very quiet followed by cocktails with the woman and a new friend where Thomas implies that it was Ebba that was a little afraid during the event. He also continues the denial another night when his friend and his new girlfriend come to the resort for a day of skiing and end up drawn into the argument and how they would react under the same circumstances.
Cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel does memorable work capturing the look and feel of a mountain resort with spectacular shades of the mountains and the graininess of the snow a realistic shots of lack of visibility that one experiences when conditions change at different points of the mountain. Event the overnight work on the mountain by caterpillars, snow mobiles and dynamite is very accurate. Director Ostlund adds to the realistic Alpine elements with several shots of chair lifts, their creaky sounds and uneven if not bouncy accents up the mountain. His visuals of the avalanche, the snow plume covering the mountain top restaurant and slow retreat of the snow spray are times to perfection.
One key shooting decision that builds tension between the family members in the film is Ostlund's choice to shoot many of the key emotional scenes just outside of the families room in the open concept ringed hallway of the resort. This element is juxt opposed of the regular end of day routine of various family members brushing their teeth armed with electric toothbrushes.
Johannes Kuhnke hits many different peaks and valleys as Thomas the family patriarch who after the events on the terrace sinks to the bottom rung on the family totem pole. He is particularly strong in two key scenes towards the latter part of the film. Lisa Loven Kongsli is the straight line that cuts through her up and down husband as Ebba. She is very even keeled and matter a fact about the events not looking to dwell on but wanting her husband to own up to his actions.
Force Majeure is an excellent psychological family study of a significant event that flips a family tree upside down. It's a production that forces the audience to think what would they do at a moment of crisis and may lead to some sideways looks form significant others. This is a film that I can highly recommend and expect it to be very prominent at award season in early 2015.
**** Out of 4
Force Majeure | Ruben Ostlund | Sweden Denmark / Norway| 2014 | 188 Minutes.
Tags: French Alps, Ski Vacation, Patriarch, Survival mode, Avalanche, Fight or Flight.