Sunday, 2 August 2015

Force Majeure

I have fond memories of childhood holidays with my family. Probably because, unless I’ve repressed it, I never had one like this. Mine usually turn out more like something from National Lampoon’s Vacation. Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray and directed by Ruben Östlund comes the fantastic Swedish comedy/drama Force Majeure

Force Majeure tells the story of a seemingly ordinary family skiing holiday in the French Alps; with businessman patriarch Tomas, his wife Ebba and their kids Vera and Harry having a pleasant time until a rather tame avalanche strikes the resort. Although the disaster doesn’t result in any damage to the resort or any human life, it does create an increasingly tense rift in the family that slowly ruins the holiday. The main conflict arises around whether or not father Tomas ran without protecting his family when he saw the avalanche – he’s adamant he did no such thing, but his wife Ebba is convinced he did. The plot is extremely simple and straightforward. Like television’s Mad Men, this is a piece in which everything else happens beneath the surface. It isn’t spoon fed to you. To the untrained eye, it’s just a family talking and falling out for two hours. Look deeper. 

So, is it any good? In a word; yes. Force Majeure almost feels like a bloody good theatre production – the story could easily work on stage. We very rarely leave the rooms and corridors of the resort’s hotel, and follow a very small cast of characters. Thankfully then, they’re all stunningly well performed – in particular, Johannes Bah Kuhnke delivers an exceptional performance as the cowardly father Tomas. There’s a familiar face here, too. Do you watch Game of Thrones? Of course you do, who doesn’t these days. Look out for everyone’s favourite ginger bearded wildling Kristofer Hivju in another great performance as Mats, one of Tomas’ old friends. The film is sharply funny throughout in the same manner of recent Argentine film Wild Tales – it’s dark and biting subtle humour isn’t in your face, but its there. The pacing is slow but steady – if you’re looking for quick thrills or excitement, you’re in the wrong place. Force Majeure almost plays out like Tom Hardy vehicle Locke; we watch as a family slowly disintegrates in a quiet, understated manner.

The film is visually beautiful too. From the wide open French ski slopes to the wooden lodge hotel, the film looks wonderful. On another note, director and writer Ruben Östlund claims that a large number of the film’s set pieces are in fact based on viral videos – the film’s climax draws its inspiration from the aptly named YouTube video Idiot Spanish bus driver almost kills students. Despite all the good, there were times when the slow, understated feel of the film did get a bit tiring. Some sequences dragged a little, leaving me thinking “okay, I get the point, move on”. The first half is fantastic, but it’s the second half where this starts to become an issue. If there weren’t subtitles to be reading on screen, it would be easy to get distracted by your phone in certain slow scenes. But these slower scenes are few and far between even then, and are only a minor issue when compared to everything that is good about this film. Östlund, who started out in the 1990s making skiing films and has previously made three other feature length films that didn’t really reach us, could become a force to be reckoned with. After this beautiful slow burning tale that achieved critical success both here and in the United States, he’s sure to get offers from Hollywood.

Force Majeure is a very slow, quiet piece of work. Any action – the avalanche, the skiing, etc – takes up but a few minutes of the two hour run-time. If you’re looking for thrills, there’s not much here to recommend. But if you want to watch a couple slowly crumble in a darkly humorous way then you’re in the right place. Let Force Majeure pull you in, and two hours later you’ll wonder where the time went.

Force Majeure hits the slopes with an ice-cold 4/5.


Sam Love

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