Östlund’s Force Majeure Refreshingly Efficient

    Force Majeure will premiere at Enzian Theater on December 19th.


    By Jessica Keller


    Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure follows an upper class Swedish family on holiday whose brush with almost-tragedy at a ski resort threatens to disintegrate the marriage of husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli). The film is Östlund’s fourth directorial effort, Sweden’s Academy Award entry, and an official selection at Cannes that generated copious critical acclaim. Though the film has everyone talking, Force Majeure is a piece that thrives in silence. It’s an icy, subtle satire, a brutally honest picture of a family faced with uncomfortable questions of gender and responsibility.


    The film opens during a photo shoot on the slopes as chiseled Tomas poses with his lovely wife and children (Clara and Vincent Wettergren) in full ski attire. The results, glowing portraits of an idyllic family, bundled in bright jackets and smiles, could pass as stock photos. The scene is an effective introduction to the family’s world of security and privilege, highlighting a happy façade that’s about to be shattered.


    Force Majeure’s cinematography brilliantly envelops us in this clean and composed existence. Sharp lines, tight, geometrical composition (Who knew wood panels could be so compelling?) and a disciplined color palette lend a heavy sense of control to the film’s five-star ski resort and makes wonderful use of it’s architecture. Some shots feel almost reminiscent of an Escher piece- if it were meant to comfort rather than confound- shapes and patterns that repeat to infinity, boxing our characters in their cozy affluence. Tourists marvel at the cold, chapped mountains but they’re spared from feeling them, guided on soft, groomed slopes, chauffeured by ski lifts, and in the evening, tucked warmly indoors.


    When a “controlled” avalanche brings the outside in, barreling over a family dinner, husband Tomas makes the critical decision to run. The moment is elegantly executed in a single lingering shot that’s worth the price of admission. When the powder settles, Tomas’ choice, if it can be called a choice, leaves his family sludging through a pit of awkward silence for much of the film’s duration. Unlike similarly reserved pictures that drag under their own weight, Force Majeure triumphs in pregnant pauses. The dialogue is relatable and real, the silence even more so. Besides select moments of orchestral flair and a particular exploding sound that mirrors the couple’s mounting anxiety, Force Majeure rarely communicates with auditory cues. Everything about the film is refreshingly efficient, from picture to performance, from script to sound. It isn’t flawless: some moments of tension felt repetitive and the film’s ending, though memorable, introduced some thought-provoking territory that didn’t quite have the time to breathe.


    But it says something that the problems of a couple with more than they need can be explored with such economy- and the exploration is fearless. Östlund dives into the issue of gender in the family, opening an emotional discussion about masculinity that concludes in a socially significant sob-fest. The film questions primal reactions in crisis, what we actually do versus what we say we’d do, tracing the thin gray line between the two.


    Force Majeure opens up at Maitland’s Enzian Theater on December 19th. Click here for more information.


    Jessica Keller is a cinematographer, photographer, writer and director based in Orlando, FL. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production at the University of Central Florida. Her interest lies in capturing a genuine human element through the lens. You can reach her at jkellerfilm@gmail.com