Force Majeure

A Clever, Uncomfortably Funny Family Dramedy


In the legal world, ‘force majeure’ is a clause in a contract meant to free a party from their obligations in moments of unavoidable circumstances beyond their control; an act of God.  Ruben Östlund’s 2014 Swedish comedy-drama Force Majeure shows how that sort of contractual clause would play out within the dynamics of a family when one member abandons their anthropologically inherited role. Universally praised by the film community, Force Majeure garnered 10 nominations at the 50th Guldbagge Awards (Sweden’s version of the Academy Awards), and walked away with the Best Film award.

Written and directed by Östlund, Force Majeure centers on the typical ‘nuclear family’; father Tomas, mother Ebba, daughter Vera, and son Harry, as they enjoy a weeklong vacation skiing in the French Alps. Using title cards noting each passing day on the vacation, Östlund’s films the uncomfortable repercussions that develop when Tomas, faced with a dangerous avalanche coming at the family, instinctually runs to save himself while Ebba shelters the children.  The avalanche is of no serious consequence, but the fall out of the family witnessing Tomas abandoning them is of the most serious variety.

Knowing how quickly he was ready to forget her and the children when his own safety was in question, how will Ebba move forward with Tomas?  Did the children realize what happened?  Does Tomas think he did something wrong?  Did he do something wrong?

Östlund uses transition sequences of gentle, soft landscape shots showcasing the surrounding snow-covered mountains along with full-bodied orchestral pieces to form an unmistakeable deviation from the quiet turmoil that envelops this family.  The agonizingly uncomfortable comedy that plays out is masterful.  His directing style is patient, willing to hold his camera still as conversation evolves between Tomas and Ebba; threatening to unravel their family.  Östlund directs with self control, allowing his cast to work through this screenplay with confidence; never rushing the process.

Sweden’s Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Norway’s Lisa Loven Kongsli star as Tomas and Ebba respectively.  They exude all of the emotions you would see in reaction to Tomas’ selfish decision, highlighting their acting talent as they transform into a couple with the feel of genuine chemistry and shared life experiences.  Kristofer Hivju (Game of Thrones) has a memorable turn as Tomas’ buddy Mats; divided between his gut-reaction that Tomas’ response to the avalanche wasn’t right while trying to help assuage his friend’s guilt.  At the same time, Mats is dealing with the consequences of Tomas’ choices in his own relationship.


Scores:

  • Cinematography: 8/10 – Framing the story’s action against the tranquil surrounding landscapes is smart
  • Music: 8/10 – The orchestral score works in tandem with Östlund’s camerawork
  • Directing: 9/10 – Östlund’s directs a patient and sophisticated comedy
  • Screenwriting: 9/10 – A smart premise plays out perfectly to its conclusion
  • Acting: 10/10 – Superb performances from all involved

Overall:

9/10 – A sophisticated and mature dramedy plays out in a French ski resort thanks to writer/director Ruben Östlund and his excellent cast.


Notes:
* 7/14/17 – Force Majeure has been includes as a 2014 Hitchaboo Honorable Mention
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