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Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // October 24, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
The family dynamic has the possibility to be filled with a wide array of complex content and rich characters. After all, it seems to be the source of attention in many forms of entertainment, delivering a massive amount of drama, although the pieces of the puzzle rarely come together. Having won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and being submitted as Sweden's official Oscar entry into the "Best Foreign Language Category," writer/director Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure has been getting a lot of buzz. It isn't very often that such a decorated piece of filmmaking goes under the radar of the true movie buffs of the world. While not the absolute masterpiece that some claim it to be, this is a well-crafted film that asks a seemingly simple, yet an ultimately complex question.
A family decides to venture on a ski holiday in the French Alps in order to get away from the mundane. One day, the family is enjoying a lunch overlooking the beautiful mountains that surround them. They find themselves staring down an avalanche, and fearing for his life, father and husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) runs away, only to return in shame. In the aftermath, their marriage has been shaken to its core, as doubt hangs over the family.
Ostlund begins the film by creating an uneasy atmosphere. We aren't ever introduced to the family, as we're simply dropped into their vacation. While Tomas and Ebba's (Lisa Loven Kongsli) marriage appears to be alright from the outside, the more that we witness of their dynamic, the quicker we realize that something is amiss. This puts the audience in an awkward position, as we continue to remain in the middle of these two stubborn personalities. Their children are clearly paying for the uncomfortable atmosphere that Tomas and Ebba are creating, as they continue to act out throughout the picture. After the avalanche, the tension continues to escalate underneath the surface at an even quicker rate. This build-up is absolutely mind-boggling, as it truly leaves us feeling as if we're sitting alongside this troubled couple. While we don't get to learn much about their past, it isn't necessarily important to the story. Ostlund focuses the spotlight on this particular scenario that left Ebba feeling truly abandoned, and Tomas guilty.
While watching Force Majeure, it's inevitable to think what one would do in what could possibly be a life-or-death scenario. As stated by Tomas' friend, perhaps an individual wouldn't know unless they were put into the moment where a split-decision must be made within a second's notice. Tomas continues to deny running away, as he fights to keep his dignity, although this only places an even larger wedge between him and Ebba. With each friend that she comes across, she brings the occurrence up, creating yet another uncomfortable encounter for everybody involved. This issue continuously proves to bother Ebba, as we see her begin to crack little by little. Viewers will know that it must eventually reach a breaking point from which the characters might never recover. These are fascinating roles that manage to truly capture a relationship that suffers from a severe lack of communication and understanding. We're left wondering how much more they can endure, and what will be left of their marriage?
However, the film also defies expectations, as it introduces a comedic element that is often utilized in order to create some sort of relief from the intensity of the drama. While there are laughs here, the majority of them result from nervous laughter. That isn't to say that it isn't wildly successful, because it is. Some of the decisions displayed through the characters' actions prove to be rather ridiculous, although Ostlund tries to balance this with the fact that it's meant to be comedic. However, some of these scenes pull us out of the picture, rather than immerse us further into the film's overall plot. As Tomas and Ebba continue to reach their individual breaking points, the picture incorporates some symbolic material. While some of it can be interpreted with a small amount of effort, others prove to be rather confusing, as they feel completely inorganic to the overall flow of the film. Nevertheless, this is still an impactful feature that leaves its mark when the credits are done rolling.
Force Majeure is a film that heavily relies on the performances of the two central leads. If they aren't represented accurately, then the entire picture could fall apart. Fortunately, Ostlund has cast an impressive duo that manages to escalate the material to new levels. Johannes Kuhnke is transfixing as Tomas. He's so incredibly organic, that this hardly feels like a performance, but rather the capturing of a man's life. He displays quite the range, especially as he's forced to sit with the shame of abandoning his family. Lisa Loven Kongsli is excellent as Ebba. Much like Kuhnke's performance, it's entirely convincing. Each time she tries to describe what happened, she continues to break down a little bit further until the flood gates are wide open. Kuhnke and Kongsli are a powerhouse when they're on screen together, as they truly bring something special to the screen that is rarely experienced.
Given that the entire film takes place within the French Alps, Ostlund truly provides a fascinating atmosphere that perfectly captures Tomas and Ebba's dilemma. The entire film maintains a light color palette. The details are crisp, although the colors aren't particularly vibrant, but they're well-balanced. When the blue tint of the family's ski clothing meets the blindingly white snow, a beautifully composed picture is created. Framing is clearly a major visual aspect of the picture, as the couple is constantly placed off to the side of the screen, delivering an unbalanced tone that truly works in the film's favor. Force Majeure is a picture with a wonderful sense of visual design that truly allows the drama to flourish.
This has to rank as one of the year's most unnerving dramas to hit the silver screen. It's a powerful depiction of manhood, marriage, and family. Writer/director Ruben Ostlund asks all of the right questions in this fully realized drama that places the audience in the lives of Tomas and Ebba. Family dramas have been done, but never have they been exposed with such transparency. Even though the ending doesn't quite measure up to the remainder of the picture, this is a film that won't leave your mind any time soon. Force Majeure is tense, well-crafted, and impactful; truly a sight to behold. Highly recommended!