When it comes to the inciting incident in Force Majeure, it is quite simply too funny and original to not include in this review, at risk of exposing spoilers. Although identifiably reminiscent of a particular Seinfeld episode, it is a brilliant premise that cracks apart the archetypal male hero. This film is uncomfortably honest and startlingly hilarious, and commands your attention at every tiny nuance.
A family of four go on vacation in the French Alps at a ski resort, where they get the opportunity to experience all that the terrain has to offer. With a husband, Tomas, who is regularly concerned with work above all else; his wife, Ebba, sees the holiday as an opportunity to bring the family closer together. The trip begins swimmingly with Tomas and Ebba getting valuable bonding time with their two young children, but everything changes after lunch at a mountainside restaurant with a dining area on the deck. An avalanche begins to rocket towards the building, and although it at first appears controlled, it quickly grows to look daunting and deadly. In the sight of danger, Tomas bullets away from the table thus abandoning his wife and children, but when the avalanche turns out to be entirely harmless, he is left with the task of explaining his cowardice to the people that he is supposed to care for the most.
Force Majeure is a beautifully shot film with a high dependence on geography. With so much of the setting being on the icy cold mountains, there is a definite reflection between that and the chill that is occurring in Tomas and Ebba’s relationship. Effectively bouncing back and forth between wide and sweeping action scenes of skiers and snowboarders to intentionally flat and small angles of the couple at dinner with friends or fighting outside their bedroom, Östlund is so involved in every moment of direction to keep the audience exactly where he wants them; which is where a lot of the humour is derived from. The uncomfortable arc of the bumbling Tomas is so painful to behold that all the viewer can do is laugh at him even if they feel a little bit guilty about it.
This film is also a refreshing portrayal of a male lead that is not at all like the superman prototype that men are often depicted as in movies. Tomas is cowardly and defensive, which is especially apparent during a scene when he goes out for dinner with Ebba and their two friends after the incident. Ebba brings up what he did with an air of humour but an undertone of biting annoyance; and instead of admitting his wrong doing or owning up to what happened at all, he lies to himself and her when he says that he definitely did not run away from the table. Although this picture is primarily a piece on gender roles in a family dynamic and the expectations of fathers, its feminist association with the breaking down of the main male character makes it as captivating as it should be.
Force Majeure is unapologetically unique and almost impossible to be pigeonholed. It has too much depth to be a standard comedy, but it is too funny to be a run-of-the-mill drama. This is a movie for fans of character studies instead of plot heavy pictures, because with its simple but solid premise, there is more to be said for the dynamic between characters than anything else. Although hype surrounding a film can generally ruin the experience of finally watching it, Force Majeure is entirely untainted by its hundreds of stunning reviews, and manages to be as enjoyable as it would be if you knew nothing about it.