Don’t let the marketing tell you what kind of movie Force Majeure is. The trailers will have you hoodwinked, allowing you to believe this is a darkly comic stay at a ski resort, watching families get into awkward, cantankerous situations in an increasingly Moodyson-esque style. The truth however, is subtractive: this is only extremely awkward, and very, very dark.
You can’t blame the promotional team for doing their job – and they’ve done a respectfully great one, at that. No one would willingly go and watch a marriage fall apart slowly and painfully at the seams, with little to no resolution as a reward. See the plot for some idea: a Swedish family of four – Tomas, Ebba and their two kids Harry and Vera – embark on a holiday to the Alps, only to believe that their vacation will come to a premature end at the hands of an avalanche heading straight for them. Although it turns out as nothing more than a false alarm, Tomas’ loyalty to his family is tested for all to see, and a rift develops between him and Ebba, growing until it threatens to tear their family apart. Some incredibly tough questions are sprung: if disaster strikes, would you try to protect your loved ones, or would you save yourself?
But to say Force Majeure is humourless would be a lie. It is extremely funny exactly when it wants to be; Ruben Östlund injects pithy into his film’s pathos, while his characters engineer their own downward spirals into morally murky waters. Could the avalanche be more than a plot device, perhaps a metaphor for the impending doom lying in wait for our relationships? Higher motives are also found at work through both nature and industry, and the battle between them: controlled explosions constantly fight the swirling snow, while inside warm rooms, the temperature between certain people couldn’t be colder. This is all while Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ strikes through brightly, stating the delectably ironic air of events as Tomas and Ebba continue to unravel.
If it were not for the remarkable performances at its centre, the movie would feel like an incessant dirge, throwing us into the blackest pits of despair imaginable. Johannes Bah Kuhnke makes Tomas, who is essentially a flaky man-child, a relatable dunderhead, while Lisa Loven Kongsli turns Ebba from a potentially naggy, blank villain into an almost painfully human conduit for our own insecurities about love, marriage, and fidelity. Force Majeure is bleak, and not of the beautiful kind; it’s the type of cinema that leaves a bruise. But don’t be put off: it’s only as uncomfortable as you make it.