Wednesday, April 15, 2015

FORCE MAJEURE

Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli


This Swedish film unfolds in the idyllic setting of the France Alps. Tomas and Ebba along with their two young kids are vacationing in an exclusive ski resort. On the surface, everything is perfect from the snow capped mountains, the skiing facilities, the luxury hotel and even the family of four. They even brush their teeth together using their electric toothbrushes. 

Ebba tells another tourist in the same resort that they are on a break because Tomas works too much. What is supposed to be a family bonding trip soon takes on a sour note after an act of nature intervenes and rocks the very core of this family.

During a bright and sunny morning while having breakfast at the outdoors section of the restaurant, an avalanche occurs. At first, Tomas insists it is controlled and everything is fine. Until the snow mist from the avalanche reaches the very spot where they are seated and envelopes the area with its shadowy menace. What ensues during the panic is the main crux of the entire film. Ebba grabs her children to shield them while Tomas grabs his iPhone and runs away.

When I first saw that scene, I was shocked and numb from what I just witnessed. A certain calm occurs right after the incident (the avalanche) and slowly the people return to their tables to resume their interrupted breakfast. Tomas returns too but acts like nothing untoward (him leaving his family behind) happened just minutes ago.

The movie cleverly examines the different reactions of Tomas and Ebba towards the incident. They try, well Ebba tries her best to wrap her head around the fact that Tomas could easily just bail out on their family in a snap. While Tomas insists on his own version of what actually unfolded.

The direction of the film does not take the heavy handed psychoanalysis route. The disputes are staid and collected, not hysterical shouting matches. Even as they discuss the incident with Mats and Fanni, their friends who are also vacationing in the same resort, they recount it with subtle movements yet expressive facial tones. Trying to be helpful, Mats offers different scenarios to justify what Tomas did. His views puts him in a bad light as Fanni feeds some not so flattering ideas into his head about his own possible reaction if he was caught in the same situation.

The vividly crisp cinematography provides an effectively calm backdrop towards the inner turmoil which Tomas and Ebba experience after the incident. The cracks in their marriage are brought to the fore and painfully exposes the problems which they seem to have kept hidden for some time. 

The film doesn't necessarily ridicule nor judge Tomas for being a coward. It puts its emphasis on the expected roles that men are supposed to be protectors during disasters yet it doesn't turn into a battle of the sexes. Each character deserve our sympathy as they are often trapped in societal roles.

Force Majeure is described as an act of God or an effect that cannot be reasonably controlled. But as it is in real life, it is how we react to the different situations which God puts us in that truly defines our existence. "Force Majeure" is a thought provoking, gripping film that will profoundly test our faith in humanity. I highly recommend it.

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