Force Majeure is a new Swedish film that excellently delves into notions of masculinity and family. Blonde and attractive Tomas and Ebba are on vacation in some snowy Swedish place (let’s say…the Alps) with their adorable tow-headed moppets, a young boy and girl. European films take their time, so we’re lulled into a sense of languid comfort as we watch this loving family pose for pictures, ski down sloping hills, lounge around their hotel room. Ebba chides Tomas about spending too much time on his phone, and the kids’ noses are buried in their electronic games, but there’s nothing there that would indicate anything less than a loving, fully functional family.
And then comes day two.
The family is having dinner on the rooftop of a restaurant, and the ski resort has been setting off controlled explosions all day, to create mini-avalanches. One such avalanche heads right towards the restaurant and appears to be quite out of control. Patrons begin to scream and panic. Ebba grabs the kids, trying vainly to shield them from the crushing snow, and Tomas…just runs. Away from all of them. Turns out, hey, false alarm. The ski resort knows what they’re doing, the snow didn’t reach the restaurant and everything’s fine. Except nothing’s fine, now.
At first, the movie gets as delightfully awkward and uncomfortable as an episode of Ricky Gervais’ The Office, as Ebba and the kids struggle with seeing their husband and father in an entirely new and unflattering light. Other patrons of the ski resort unwittingly get dragged into the story themselves, forced to pick a side in this impromptu war of the sexes, as Ebba starts telling what happened to anyone who’ll listen, while Tomas steadfastly denies he ran at all. It’s very funny and stilted and WASP-y and awkward until you realize that what you’re seeing is a slow-motion destruction of an entire family.
All this is told in frequently dispassionate long takes from a distance, creating a cold atmosphere that you can feel in your bones. You just want this family to get past this. It’s such a small thing, really. But it’s snowballed into something much larger.
The ending his perhaps a bit too frustratingly vague and European for my taste, but there’s no denying it was a great film overall.