Movie Review: Force Majeure [2014]

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Directed by: Ruben Östlund
Country: Sweden
Runtime: 119 mins
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju
Nominations: Golden Globes [Foreign Film]



Force Majeure is a Swedish film shortlisted by The Academy in best foreign film nomination. It's director Ruben Östlund's fourth full feature film, were he tells about a family of four that is about to fall apart, because their perceptions of each other were actually far from reality.

Thomas and Ebba with two children are having a vacation in French alps. On a fine morning, while they are having their meal on veranda, allegedly controlled avalanche cascades towards the hotel. They all panic but behave differently. Ebba grabs kids to cover them, Thomas, to the contrary rushes inside, leaving hopeless family members behind. This is when his, as a family patriarch's status is questioned leading the relationships to unwilling direction.

Östlund's film talks about a lot family relationship issues, that are either openly, or vaguely discussed in different societies. The problems demonstrated here seem to be very common for any culture, even for Swedes, who are perceived as the most open people in terms of domestic obligations and gender roles. The avalanche accident leads to the biggest problem this quiet family faces - questioning Thomas's status as the guardian of the family and suddenly everybody, and most importantly wife, feels desperately unprotected. Even though the children are scared, their feelings are more about the physical threat they've experienced, than about trusting to father's instincts. While Ebba sees her husband's image falling apart, she no longer sees the man she though she married to.

Force Majeure is a test of marriage, values, relationships and feelings. It basically questions everything that particular and most families stand on, but it never fails to balance between different options until the very end, where I think, Ruben gave a clear version of his answer to all questions. Primarily, the events happening in the film test Ebba's believes, her image of marriage and love and care. But it's not only about avalanche. Her female friend tells a story of her multiple relationships with different men, while being married to one and having children. Ebba, a woman fully committed to a family, has no understanding of it - she can not picture herself flirting with other men and still loving husband, children. Female friend, who has very short screen time, is a very well written character. She's calm type, who tries to explain the perks of open relationship, that there is no correlation between love to family and one night stands, that she's afraid to be dumped as much as other women. And here, she has one brilliant line:

"I can't go building my entire self-esteem on being a woman in a relationship or being a mother"

It's exactly opposite what Ebba has been doing whole her life and obviously the reason of her doubts in husband, who was seen as a sole protector and responsible person in family. Since Thomas made an unforgivable mistake he can not be trusted - that's what wife thinks. But to some extent, it's not really about being father or mainstay of family, it's more about how comfortable Ebba feels. That's why she tries to "negotiate" with husband so that they had the same story of what really happened on that morning and they practically make up a new version of it which is acceptable for both of them. However, she can not hold it for a long time, it's eating her out from inside and later explodes in front of their friends, among whom Ebba tries to find like-minded people. When she succeeds, she becomes more calm.

Meanwhile, Thomas is acknowledging the whole dramatic perspective of his actions. Still, he is more concerned about wife's reaction that on some level ruins relationship with children, who more are afraid that parents are gonna divorce.

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Almost entire movie is a discussion whether a parent can make such mistake - putting its own safety before others. And you feel like that the answer is a definite NO, but the way Ruben Östlund ends film, makes you start questioning this position. In the final scene, when the family leaves hotel, they take a bus on a very dangerous road. Ebba is freaking out, asking to stop the bus, because they might fall through the cliff any time and what she does when it's stopped? Immediately jumps out of it leaving her children behind. So, basically, she made the same mistake in arguably more dangerous situation and this is where it becomes clear that making a mistake can not define good parenting. Director also proves it in one of the latest scenes, where Ebba is lost in misty mountains and Thomas goes to rescue her - it's an indication that he still remains the guy who can take care of beloved people.

Ruben Östlund managed to build a quite interesting movie on issues that has been discussed in probably a lot of films. But the approach director took here is quite unique and simple. Probably, closest to reality and real family troubles. The main characters are well written, interesting and still easy to generalize.  

One thing I loved most here is music - Vivaldi's Storm - one of the wisest use of old classic. It perfectly matches the rhythm of movie, it goes on and off on the rights scenes and just booms the effect of events happening on the screen. If you watch this, you can not miss the brilliance of this choice. Still, some other sounds I found a bit loud, but nothing really disturbing.

The last thing I want to say is that English translation of title - Turist - is totally inappropriate. It has nothing to do with tourism and original title Force Majeure is a perfect match.

To conclude, Force Majeure is a must watch, an amazing experience.