Force Majeure (2014, Ruben Östlund)

Sometimes I get behind on the ol’ movie blog because I watch a movie I’d been expecting to like and it turns out I have nothing to say about it and can’t even bring myself to write a plot description. Fortunately there’s Cinema Scope to tell me what to think.

Inspired by a bunch of viral videos! Yes, exclamation mark. I’m still confused by the bus-ride finale, but at least now I know it’s part of the director’s weird urge to incorporate his favorite youtube videos into the script. Full of gentle doom music, plus some Vivaldi. Won a million awards, including a prize at Cannes – where Mark Peranson wrote:

The film benefits immensely from Ostlund viewing this familial tragedy through a wry microscopic lens, which helps counteract his Haneke-like tendencies: when Tomas bursts out crying after faking tears mere seconds earlier, and then can’t stop, the situation is at the same time funny-sad and funny ha-ha. There’s a glimmer of warmth to be found in the winter chills, and Ostlund’s accomplishment is rare: Force Majeure is an example of universal distance. Here, man is the animal.

It’s actually Oostlund, or Oestlund, or O-with-two-dots-stlund, but my Macbook has decided to disable the useful feature where I used to hold down a vowel key and it would ask me how I’d like to decorate it with accent marks and such.

So this is the movie where the dad abandons his family during an apparent avalanche, and this leads to strife. It’s got the same problem as most movies (and possibly most relationships): that of communication. They can’t move past this moment because the dad refuses to talk about it, even though the mom doesn’t want to talk about anything else. They drag other couples into their vacation-crisis, sparking little sub-crises everywhere.

The family with Fanny and Mats:

Whiteout rescue – possibly staged for the kids’ benefit:

A. Muredda:

Ultimately, Force Majeure isn’t about “the crisis of masculinity” so much as the way personal edges never quite get shaved off with the adoption of archetypal roles: not just father and husband, but also mother and girlfriend. In a film rife with smart visual set pieces, from Tomas’ flight from the table to a later family excursion into whiteout conditions that allows him to reassert his dominance, the richest belongs to Ebba. Late in a day off from her family, mostly spent sitting at the hotel bar and having a private ski, Ebba relieves herself in the bushes off to the side of the hill, the camera slowly pushing in on her face as she hears what sounds like her little tribe slowly coming down the slope before her; she tearfully looks in their direction but doesn’t announce herself, troubled by her momentary separateness but not about to change it. Tomas’ actions during what ought to have been a redemptive defining moment are the ones that will surely inspire the most post-screening discussions, as they do with the couples Ebba solicits, but what sets Force Majeure apart is this heightened sensitivity to how even an event as minor as Ebba’s little breather is incongruous with the stories that families tell about who they are.

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