Entertainment » Movies

Force Majeure

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Oct 24, 2014
A scene from 'Force Majeure'
A scene from 'Force Majeure'  

With "Force Majeure," Ruben Östlund writes and directs a piercing, blackly comic portrait of a family in the throes of dysfunction.

The family in question are Swedish, taking a ski holiday in the French Alps, but their situation is universally applicable. Outwardly, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are the epitome of the modern couple: Affluent, happy, with two cute kids in tow. But when a moment's panic grips the family one day, their reactions in the moment trigger lasting repercussions that bring buried tensions and dissatisfactions boiling to the surface.

On the level of metaphor, the film works as a serious, if artistic, inquiry into the expectations people have of one another, realistic and otherwise, and the illusions we maintain to secure our relationships and anchor our identities.

As social comment, the film is a piquant (and slightly piqued) comment on the way fear can infect not only families, but society at large; as Tomas and Ebba dissect and debate event and what it means, their friends Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanny (Fanni Metelius) get dragged into the controversy, finding fault lines in their own relationship.

It's a timely cinematic remark, given the string of terrors we've inflicted on ourselves in recent decades thanks to our trashy, tabloid TV-infested world: Östlund's wry and unsparing story resonates with everything from the "Y2K bug" to terrorism scares to the current, and shamefully politicized, fretfulness over Ebola. "You're not the only victim here," Tomas sobs to Ebba at one juncture, but it's just after she's caught him only pretending to cry in order to gain her sympathy.

The suggestion is pointed and scathing: If we're victims of fear, it's because we've indulged those fears to begin with rather than engaging critical thought or, in the case of troubled marriages like the one Tomas and Ebba find themselves negotiating, because we haven't bothered to learn how to communicate effectively. Blame is so much easier, after all, than taking responsibility for one's own needs and deficiencies -- a thesis the film's closing scenes underscore with a sharp, and satisfying, sense of hard won triumph.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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