Force Majeure (2014): Act of God or Act of Human

As I’m writing, this just popped up: Force Majerure (Sweden) is now one of nine films shortlisted for the Oscars Foreign Language Film category, advanced from the initial round with features from eighty-three countries. Soon, this list will be further shortened to make up the five nominees for the 87th Academy Awards. Nominations will be announced at 5:00 a.m. PT, January 15, 2015.

Force Majeure

I watched Force Majeure at TIFF in September, a second time again this week as it comes to our local theatre. Please note, it is impossible to discuss this film in an intelligent manner without mentioning the storyline. Therefore, consider yourself warned. Spoiler Alert. But let me assure you, this won’t lessen your enjoyment of the movie; rather, it could prepare you for a more purposeful viewing.

‘Force majeure’ in translation means ‘an overwhelming and irresistible force’. Director Ruben Östlund tells his visual story based on this notion. A young family goes on a week of skiing holiday in the French Alps, a much needed family time as the husband has been busy at work. What is intended to be a fun family vacation is turned into something totally unthought of, making this one of the most original film ideas I’ve come across in years.

The slick and stylish camerawork begins with a close-knit family. Mom and Dad Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) look like a well-matched couple; their pair of school-aged children Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren) are smart and charming. All four of them sleep together on one King-sized bed in the resort hotel, wear the same style of underwear, brush their teeth in one accord, do everything together, until one split-second their view of each other is shaken to the core.

Family photo

The ski resort conducts controlled avalanches to maintain the ski slopes. At lunch on the second day, the family sits at a table in the outside terrace, taking in the spectacular scenery. Suddenly a controlled avalanche is launched. At first, everyone is curious and excited, marvelling at the sight. But soon the avalanche appears too close for comfort. Panic begins to send people scattering away from their tables.

Ebba grabs her children, but with two of them, she looks for Tomas to help. Tomas in the mean time is nowhere to be found, for he is the first one to run away from their table. Sounds hilarious? The scenario can be quite comical actually, but that only sets the stage for a critical look at a marriage relationship, and with that, the duties, roles, and expectations of a husband and a father.

Director Östlund aptly presents to us a situation worthy of discussion. What deserves praise is the way he does it: with deadpan humour, slick editing, stylish cinematography and clever dialogues. The music motif captures the mood perfectly with excerpt from Vivaldi’s Four Season, where the intensifying summer storm brewing, and soon wreaks havoc on what could have been a perfect family holiday.

As Ebba relays the embarrassing episode to friends Mats and Fanny, superbly played by supporting actors Kristofer Hivju and Fanni Metelius, the scenario soon divides the two couples along gender lines, and divergent and conflicting views regarding male and female roles and dispositions ensue. Suppressed chuckles in the theatre could well be the intended effects by the director, but I couldn’t help but LOL at certain shots.

Tomas’s earlier denial is later dissolved into concession as he declares himself ‘a victim of his own instincts’. What an intriguing claim. Are we autonomous agents fully responsible for our own actions, or victims of our personality? I first thought the term Force Majuere refers to the avalanche, but as the story unfolds, I begin to see it as the force within, our innate nature, as Tomas puts it, the impulse that drives him to act a certain way. The term ‘controlled avalanche’ is perhaps the most intriguing oxymoron inferring to the nature of our behaviour.

The final act may look a little incompatible with the rest of the film. However, I feel it is a sensitive and nuanced depiction of this thing we can call ‘humanness.’ What’s joining us all is our frailty. A quote from another movie suddenly comes to mind: “The things that people in love do to each other they remember, and if they stay together it’s not because they forget, it’s because they forgive.”

An interesting scenario presented in a visually captivating and delightful cinematic offering. I hope Force Majeure will make it to the final cut in the Oscar race. And, my instinct tells me it just might.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


Other Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Ida’s Choice: Thoughts on Pawlikowski’s Ida

Tuffing it out at TIFF14

Top Ripples 2014

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

10 thoughts on “Force Majeure (2014): Act of God or Act of Human”

  1. I don’t know what I thought this film was going to be “about,” but it certainly wasn’t this. What a fascinating storyline, and what an apt metaphor. Like you, I initially thought the controlled avalanche was the force, but by the time I finished your review, it seemed to have become only the trigger mechanism. There’s no question I’ll look for this one, even if I have to wait for DVD.


    1. Linda,

      It’s definitely thought-provoking and worth discussing. But it’s also done stylishly, and yes, quirky. I like that. Not your traditional filmmaking. You’ll enjoy it.


  2. I’d never considered “controlled avalanches” before. I suppose it’s not unlike our controlled burns here in our state. Definitely an interesting premise. I’ll put it on my hope-to-watch list.


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