Monday, March 02, 2015

movie review: Force Majeure

Force Majeure (original title: Turist)
(Sweden, 2014)
director: Ruben Östlund 

Force Majeure is a movie where you laugh, but then feel kind of bad for laughing. The director is a master of scenes that start out seeming normal, but slowly, slowly spiral downward into discomfort. If I could actually see my fellow audience members' thoughts, I'm pretty sure the words "WORST DINNER PARTY EVER" would have appeared over everyone's heads (including mine!) at a certain point in the movie.

Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) are an attractive thirtysomething Swedish couple with two attractive children (real life siblings Vincent and Clara Wettergren). They seem to be reasonably well off, because they are at a beautiful, expensive ski resort in the Alps. It, and the surrounding mountains, are so beautiful it made me want to go on a ski holiday. I'm normally the last person who wants to go skiing--my last downhill ski outing consisted of me inching down our tiny local hill in abject terror, swearing I'd never do it again--but such is the power of the gorgeously filmed scenery in this movie.

All seems to be going well until the second day of the trip, when the family has a scary experience and Tomas reacts in a way that surprises and disappoints everyone. Even though everyone is OK afterward, Ebba cannot let it go, and Tomas can't admit what happened. Both must acknowledge that the fissures that were there before in their marriage have now deepened, and someone is going to fall in. There is a lot going on here beneath the placid happy-family surface: dissatisfaction and stagnation; chafing and resentment at traditional gender roles; exposure of the contrived nature of the narratives we create about our own relationships.

There are a lot of shots where the camera lingers just a little too long to be comfortable. It creates an  unsettling effect where we, the audience, feel we are voyeurs in these people's lives: we are uncomfortable but at the same time, it's impossible to tear our eyes away. We are on pins and needles, waiting for the next disaster, natural or otherwise.

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