FORCE MAJEURE (Ruben Östlund, 2014)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway at 63rd St., 212-757-2280
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Opens Friday, October 24
Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure is one of the best films you’ll ever hear. Not that Fredrik Wenzel’s photography of a lovely Savoie ski resort and Ola Fløttum’s bold, classical-based score aren’t stunning in their own right, but Kjetil Mørk, Rune Van Deurs, and Jesper Miller’s sound design makes every boot crunching on the snow, every buzzing electric toothbrush, every ski lift going up a mountain, every explosion setting off a controlled avalanche a character unto itself, heightening the tension (and black comedy) of this dark satire about a family dealing with a crisis. On the first day of their five-day French Alps vacation, workaholic Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), are enjoying lunch on an outdoor veranda with their small children, Harry (Vincent Wettergren) and Vera (Clara Wettergren), when a potential tragedy comes barreling at them, but in the heat of the moment, while Ebba instantly seeks to protect the kids, Tomas runs for his life, leaving his family behind. After the event, which was not as bad as anticipated, the relationship among the four of them has forever changed, especially because Tomas will not own up to what happened. Even Harry and Vera (who are brother and sister in real life) know something went wrong that afternoon and are now terrified that their parents will divorce. But with Tomas unwilling to talk about his flight response, Ebba starts sharing the story with other couples, including their hirsute friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his young girlfriend, Fanni (Fanni Metelius), who are soon arguing in private about what they would do in a similar situation.
Winner of the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival and the Swedish entry for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Force Majeure is a blistering exploration of human nature, gender roles, and survival instinct. The often uncomfortable and utterly believable tale, inspired by a real-life event in which friends of Östlund’s were attacked by gunmen, recalls Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, in which an engaged couple encounter serious trouble and their immediate, individual reactions change their dynamic. Östlund (Play, Involuntary), who was also influenced by statistics that show that more men survive shipwrecks than women and children on a percentage basis, often keeps dialogue at a minimum, revealing the family’s growing predicament by repeating visuals with slight differences, from the way they sleep in the same bed to how they brush their teeth in front of a long mirror to the looks on their faces as they move along a motorized walkway in a tunnel at the ski resort. The ending feels forced and confusing, but everything leading up to that is simply dazzling, a treat for the senses that is impossible not to experience without wondering what you would do if danger suddenly threatened you and your loved ones.