Force Majeure – Movie Talk

It’s a shame that such a beautiful vacation spot was the setting for what turned out to be a dreadful nightmare, at least for the characters of Force Majeure. For me, it was a breathtaking visual to complement the ruthless exploration of man. Force Majeure, the Swedish film discovered last year at Cannes has found its way to my Netflix queue, which I’m glad it did. However, I now seem to be rethinking some things about my life.

This film has a fairly simple premise that can be summed up in a sentence: A near deadly avalanche causes friction between a man and his wife while on a ski trip. Where the brilliance in this movie lies is in the aftermath and development of the characters. I described this as a nightmare because it is a situation that could too easily happen to us a cause plenty of grief. This film goes deep into that feeling of grief and regret over our actions.

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The movie begins right away, creating the appropriate tone and revealing the superficiality of this family. They get there picture taken on the slopes, but they are clearly and painfully awkward. They then go back and rest in their hotel room, speaking almost no words at all. It’s not until the avalanche strikes that this facade begins to break. While eating lunch on a deck overlooking the gorgeous white mountains, the avalanche causes a panic as it approaches them. Everyone begins to run away. The wife, Ebba, covers her two children while her husband, Tomas, grabs his gloves, iPhone, and flees. This causes Ebba mild discomfort that will eventually grow. I suppose the avalanche is a metaphor for the disaster that is about to unfold between those two.

Ruben Ostlund, the director, sets up and develops a magnificent story that borders a satirical look at mankind today. After seeing the entire movie, the two big themes I thought were thoroughly explored were how we perceive ourselves and what we do in dangerous situations. 

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When Ebba brings up the avalanche and Tomas’ abandonment of his children, he simply shrugs it off and says they have different perceptions of what happened. It’s not until he sees a video of what happened that he realizes how he reacted. The rest of the film follows Tomas as he breaks down the perceptions he has of himself. Once he realized he’s not as noble as he thought he would be, it crushes him, and his family. He begins to hate himself. Ostlund broke down this character incredibly well. He doesn’t take sides with Tomas, portraying him not as a coward, but as an honest human being. A human being so realistic that it reflects how we perceive ourselves and how we really are. Ostlund suggest that it’s not pretty. Once Tomas finally recognizes and reflects on what he did, there are scenes of raw emotion that brought me to the verge of tears. His family connects with his regret and comforts him in one heartbreaking scene.

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How would you react in a situation like this? That is a question Ostlund makes you ponder throughout this movie. This also goes back to how we perceive ourselves. It is easy to say we would protect our loved ones, but it is impossible to know for sure until that event confronts us. It is scary to think about, and even more scary to realize you wouldn’t to the heroic thing. That is why so many of these scenes are uncomfortable to us. It would be horrible to have to face yourself and loved ones after reacting that way. We see this personified when a good friend of Tomas can’t sleep because there is doubt as to what he would do in that situation.

Ostlund does more than create a wonderful story. He shoots in long, unedited scenes that allow for natural performances that make you believe you are experiencing them in person. There is a dinner scene where the camera sits in one spot the entire time like it is a character at the table. It was when someone sits in that spot, back facing the camera, that I realized how effective this was. It then of course makes it awkward for the audience to experience some of the arguments between characters.

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The acting in this movie was incredible by each and every person. With such long scenes, they did an unbelievable of making it seem natural. The actor portraying Tomas has one over the top, melodramatic crying scene that I could have done without though. Apparently Ostlund showed him a YouTube video of how he should cry in that scene. Even the children gave honest performances that fit perfectly in the film.

This story is also accompanied by some breathtaking imagery. The panoramic shots of snowy mountains and night were incredibly appealing. It is a place I would love to go, just not as Tomas. If there was a single movie to demonstrate the beauty of digital film, this would be my pick. The avalanche scene was done with footage of an actual avalanche put on a green screen. The rest was filmed on location. The cinematography on the mountains was downright beautiful. I was in awe every time they shot on that mountain. 

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Music was also used effectively in this film. Many scene transitions ironically played clips of Vivaldi’s “Summer”. It set the tone so well and matched the development of the characters. When Vivaldi wasn’t playing, natural sounds and noises were utilized in the background. Even in dialogue scenes there was often a vacuum or electric toothbrush noise featured prominently. This simply added to the realistic tone of this movie. It didn’t feel like a movie set with lights and cameras offscreen.

I found no faults in the first two thirds of this film. It is the third act that begins to fall apart. Without giving away any details, it ends by trying to conclude while saying too many things at once. I understand what Ostlund was going for, but it needed to be cleaned up. Fortunately, it did not take away from the long journey that I had just experienced.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the majority. It is a slow, sometimes painful, burn that was incredibly executed by Ostlund. The hotel setting gave it a little Shining feel as well. Every shot felt deliberate and well thought out, resulting in a beautiful movie. This movie made me think more than one has in a while, which is a nice change among the recent Avengers and Furious talk. I’m seeing Ex Machina soon, hopefully that will exceed my expectations in terms of cerebral story the way Force Majeure did.

 

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5 thoughts on “Force Majeure – Movie Talk

  1. Nice review, Andrew. Very thoughtful. I also watched “Force”. Here’s my takeaway:

    “Force Majeure” (literally, “Greater Force”) puts me in the mind of 2011’s “The Loneliest Planet”. Only with a heightened sense of stridence.

    These two films collectively deal with the emotional fallout following a pivotal event between loved ones. In “Planet” it was between a young engaged couple trekking on foot through the Caucasus Mountains. In “Force” the setting is a mountain range once again, this time involving a Swedish family of four on holiday at a ski resort in the French Alps. Each story depicts a cataclysmic moment and an individual’s reaction to it in the face of impending crisis. What results in each circumstance is an emblematic dagger being plunged deep into the layers of trust heretofore believed to be shared between those they care about most in the world.

    The uncomfortable issues and stark introspection dealt with in both of these worthy efforts is decidedly disconcerting and painfully difficult to come to terms with. One likes to think that they know what they would do if someone you cherish is facing imminent peril. Yet, in the end, it may well boil down to the unsettling reality that you never know exactly what you’ll do until that moment of reckoning comes.

    Most of us likely continue to pray that it never does.

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    • Thanks for the comment! I haven’t seen The Loneliest Planet but I’ll definitely check it out. I completely agree with your interpretation too, confronting that reality would be horrible to experience as well as uncomfortable to watch.

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  2. Force Majeure is one of those films that kept coming to my mind for a long time after seeing it, and every time I would find another detail to think about. Although right after seeing it I though that the end ruined the movie, then it just felt right. There are many interesting things going on it the last minutes…and if you think about them, then the whole thing starts to make sense…
    I found this movie very provocative, it has so much food for thought: our reaction to an unexpected event, how a “perfect” relationship can fall apart, wether we can fight our instincts, the way society expects a man -and a woman- to be, the “perfect parents” we want to be for our children, are just a few…

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