Billed as a comedy-drama, FORCE MAJEURE is a Swedish movie about a troubled family that goes on a ski vacation. Resentment builds among the family when the father, Tomas, appears to abandon his family during an avalanche that almost kills them all. In the meantime, the mother, Ebba, meets another couple who are childless and have an open relationship that they openly and positively discuss. The more Ebba sees that the childless, unmarried couple are happy, the more she wonders what she’s doing with Tomas.
Though it features the breakup of a marriage with children, this plot description may make FORCE MAJEURE sound like an intriguing tale to some moviegoers. That is not the case, because the movie is filmed at a glacial pace, except for the avalanche scene and its immediate aftermath. Also, the movie’s sound is incredibly low and quiet, making it hard to follow despite the English subtitles. The whiteness of the snow scenes, shadowy darkness of the evening scenes and repressed emotions don’t help. FORCE MAJEURE has a strong humanist worldview attacking traditional notions of marriage and family.
(HHH, AbAbAb, LLL, V, S, N, A, MM) Very strong humanist worldview where a childless, unmarried couple with an “open” relationship are seen as happier than a married couple with children, including a weak cowardly father; about 29 obscenities and profanities, including some GDs, JCs and eight or more “f” words; an avalanche hits a house with the family at dinner but people survive and escape pile of snow, but father clearly saved himself rather than looking out for his family; no depicted sex but discussion about an unmarried couple’s open relationship and a married friend is on a vacation fling away from her family; upper female nudity when woman walks topless; casual alcohol use; no smoking or drugs; and, couple positively discusses their premarital illicit open relationship, family reacts negatively when father seems to be a coward during one near-fatal incident, children look at cowardly father with disdain, wife speaks disrespectfully to cowardly husband as if he has a desire to abandon them, arguments between married couple often occur in sight or hearing range from their young children, father cries a lot and befriends divorced man in “open” relationship and follows him as he tries to teach the father how to “really” be a man despite the fact he can’t keep a relationship together.
FORCE MAJEURE is a Swedish comedy-drama about a troubled family that goes on a ski vacation but risks falling apart when the father gets scared and runs away from them during an avalanche. FORCE MAJEURE has a strong humanist worldview that turns into an attack on marriage and family.
Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) is a Swedish father who spends most of the year being distant due to his workload. He and his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), take their young children on a ski trip to rekindle the family ties in the French Alps.
As the family is enjoying a meal on a patio at the ski lodge, an avalanche occurs. When the snow starts falling in the distance, Ebba begs to run for safety while Tomas says it’s not a big deal and tries to tell them not to run. Then, the snow roaring towards them turns out to be a dangerous avalanche, and it hits the patio and buries Ebba and the kids briefly.
When they push their way out of the snow, Tomas is nowhere to be found. As they sit back at their table, Tomas casually re-takes his seat a few minutes later, drawing disdainful stares from Ebba and critical looks from the children. Obviously, Tomas abandoned the family when the avalanche was about to strike. The resentment from his family continues to build over the next few days and nights.
In the meantime, Ebba meets another couple who are childless and have an open relationship that they openly and positively discuss. The more Ebba sees that the childless, unmarried couple are happy, the more she wonders what she’s doing with Tomas. His apparent cowardice is akin to a wakeup call to alter their relationship or leave him. Meanwhile, Tomas befriends the man in the open relationship as the man tries to show Tomas how to reassert himself, setting off a series of ski challenges along with their discussions.
SPOILER FOLLOWS: Ultimately, Tomas is too ineffectual and cries so much that he fails to win back Ebba’s trust after years of simmering problems. So she leaves him and the children.
Though it features the breakup of a marriage with children, this plot description may make FORCE MAJEURE sound like an intriguing tale nonetheless. That is not the case, as Writer/Director Ruben Ostlund runs the entire movie (outside of the short but tense avalanche scene) at a glacial pace. The movie is labeled genre-wise as a comedy-drama, but the scene where Tomas tries to nonchalantly act like nothing happened as his wife and children look at him like a total coward is the movie’s only funny part.
Also, the movie’s sound is incredibly low and quiet, making it hard to follow, even with subtitles being used for the Swedish characters. The blinding whiteness of the snow scenes, shadowy darkness of the evening scenes in the hotel rooms, and all around reticent show of emotions help make FORCE MAJEURE a colossally boring movie that makes marriage appear stifling and joyless, and men seem weak. Some clever symbolism and a few striking images are not enough to overcome these problems.
The average moviegoer, and certainly the media-wise viewer, probably will find FORCE MAJEURE a must to avoid, despite acclaim from other reviewers who likely heaped praise on the movie because of its anti-family, anti-marriage message.
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