Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Film Notes: Force Majeure

A perfect, rich beautiful Swedish couple, Ebba and Tomas, take their two children to a beautiful mountain resort for a week of skiing and family time. They plan to spend their days in the mountains, and their evenings with like-minded friends in the luxury hotel they have booked. What could possibly go wrong? Force Majeure is the story of a family for whom everything on the surface looks idyllic; but whose idyll is shattered by dark forces within them. These undercurrents, which have been suppressed beneath their their opulent consumerism, and outward beauty, are exposed by a crisis which physically only disturbs them; but promises to emotionally destroy them.

. The 'perfect family' on vacation look to be doing fine, until lunch on the first day of their trip. Until this point the only indication that all is not what it seems are the sporadic and sudden interjections of bursts of dramatic classical music; that and when Tomas lies about his mobile phone us. These are things which seem to be at odds with the proceedings; but in fact are in tune with the realities of the situation. Then a controlled-avalanche goes wrong and threatens to engulf the family. They survive completely unharmed, but as the thick, smoky, powder from the near-miss settles; it becomes clear that Ebba sought to protect the children; while Tomas grabbed his gloves and mobile phone - and ran away.

The darkly tragic-comedic situation that unfolds is the ever more desperate attempts of the family to continue to present their veneer of perfection; when the proverbial 'elephant in the room' must constantly be stepped around. Of course, as the saying goes, emotions are never buried - they are always buried alive! But when Ebba drinks a lot of wine, in company; all the pain and the anger of that fateful lunch come pouring out, compounded by Tomas' sorry attempts to talk himself out of the situation. The fake 'united -front' is seen through by the children who become emotional and difficult, fearful that their plastic-paradise is disintegrating. All the while, in the background, Ebba has a friend who seems perfectly happy in a promiscuous open marriage something she disapproves of; while her attempts to construct a perfect reality for herself are in turn hugely flawed.

The comedy of embarrassment, over cringe-worthy dinner parties; and by the frequent interruptions at critical emotional moments by the monosyllabic and stony-faced hotel porter; only alleviate the mounting tension slightly. Through it all, the family maintain their stringent teeth-brushing routines seeming to indicate that presenting perfect teeth to the world still matters - even if relationally there is deep-rooted decay setting in. This tension eventually erupts into Tomas' bitter weeping, and confession that he hates so many aspects of his cowardice and deceit.

The film ends with a group of scenes which neither bring the narrative to a definite conclusion, nor reduce the plot to one simple 'message'. In one scene, Tomas rescues Ebba when she seems lost on the foggy ski slopes, and Ebba announces that everyone is now happy. It seems clear though that she has staged the event, in order to reassure the children; but the viewer knows that her attempt to rebuild her husbands' character in the kids eyes is a reversion to the pretence of perfection. Finally, as the family leave the resort and an inept bus-driver scares them all to death on a perilous descent; Ebba loses her cool; and this time, it is her who runs from danger leaving the kids with Tomas. 

But what are we to make of this? Is it the case that Ebba is trying again to reconstruct her fake, perfect marriage and family life - this time by reducing herself; after having tried to just build Tomas up? Or it it simply that her previous judgementalism over Tomas' errors was hypocritical; because in fact everyone is as flawed as everyone else. Lurking alongside all of this of course, is the simple morality tale of a man who preferred his phone to his family - and may have lost them as a result. The final scene of the film involves the whole bus load of people walking down the mountain, having let the maniacal bus driver go ahead. They trudge back down towards their 'normal lives', with a mountain of unresolved questions to face; and the ripples of Tomas' character flaws still dispersing.

This film is, despite the relatively small amount of action, totally gripping - if at times unbearable to watch. Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli as Tomas and Ebba put in very good performances in which the chasm between their exterior and interior lives is writ large. They are ably supported by a strong supporting cast, including the children - who seem genuinely caught up in the sorry tale. Force Majeure ("Irresistible Force") is a cracking good movie, full of hypocrisy, vanity, conceit, lies and their exposure, love, pain, betrayal and glimpses of hope. Weirdly, its also at times rather funny. It certainly has enough unusual elements to set it apart from being yet-another action film or family drama.

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