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Force Majeure

January 18, 2017

fmaPonderous and over-rated, the director of this film sought to challenge the stereotype of the lone male hero.

A Swedish family travels to the French Alps to enjoy a few days of skiing. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular but, during a lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche turns everything upside down.

 Suddenly erupting in an extraordinary four-and-a-half-minute single shot while they’re having lunch on a panoramic balcony, the phenomenon leaves them physically unscathed. But it has immeasurable psychological impact. In the heat of the moment, dad Tomas, whether because of an instinctive momentary lapse or a fatal character flaw, seems only to be looking out for himself, at the expense of his wife Ebba and their two young children. What follows is a different kind of avalanche – the dramatic subsidence of the couple’s seemingly stable relationship and of Tomas’s entire being.

Force Majeure loses some dramatic concentration with the arrival of Tomas’s friend Mats, wearing an immense beard in a style best described as “Mid-Life Crisis Mountain Man”. There’s a rather jarring scene in which Mats and his much younger hippyish girlfriend Fanni muse on Tomas’s moment of truth, and how it reflects on their own relationship. Suddenly Östlund’s agenda for discussion – “OK, guys, what would you have done?” – becomes clumsily overt. The film is much more effective when it lets the situations speak for themselves, as in a moment of excruciating comedy when Tomas seems to get a compliment from a younger woman, only for things to turn crushingly sour in an instant.

This Swedish movie is the kind of film that compels us to put ourselves into the picture and then share with our own loved ones what we would have done in this situation. Other conversation points include your reactions to the talk Ebba has with a married woman and mother who has sex with men whenever she wants, your feelings about Tomas’s fear and denial, and your take on Ebba’s growing feeling of estrangement from her husband and what she sees as his habitual selfishness.

Divided into sections corresponding to the vacation’s five days, “Force Majeure” is ultimately about something not often explored in film: the consequences of male weakness in a world in which men are expected to be strong at all times.

The bus ride is dangerous – as an analagy to life, they are refusing to face that risk, they get off. Only the woman who recognises freedom, and to some degree understands that marriage and the patriarchy, monogamy, etc is a sham, remains on the bus. She knows that safety is an illusion. The best friend references ‘civilization’ they fall back into the rhetoric and comforting illusion of civilization and culture, get of fthe bus and walk in the crowd.

Note in the final shot the placement of the characters walking down the road. None of the characters are walking together, all of them are seperate. Fanni seems more ashamed of herself for her misjudgment of Mats instead of celebrating his composure, and the camera lingers on her for quite a while. Ebba is similarly distressed, and even has Mats carry her child for her, as if she no longer has confidence in herself or her husband to take care of her children. This could be a happy moment for the couple. They could recognize that these things can happen to anyone and forgive one another, but instead they are driven further apart.

Ironically for a winter film, the recurring main music theme of the movie is from Antonio Vivaldi’s Summer Concerto.

Fanni: There’s nothing in your head that you haven’t said!

“We made it, we made it.”

Tomas: I’m a bloody victim of my own instincts!

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From → Film, Sexuality

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