6 hours ago
Thursday, 16 April 2015
Film: 'Force Majeure'
A Swedish family of parents and two little children are on a ski-ing holiday when a pivotal event takes place ten minutes in, the aftermath of which completely dominates the rest of this two-hour film.
All four are on the hotel restaurant balcony having a meal, with spectacular views of surrounding snow-scaped mountains, when in the distance, high up, an avalanche commences. At first the father (Johannes Kuhnke), capturing it on his phone, reassures the others that its effects will be 'controlled'. It soon turns out that that is not to be the case and as the snow wall approaches it threatens to engulf the entire building. Crucially, in the ensuing panic, the father's first instinctive reaction is to hang onto his phone and rush to escape, leaving his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) with their children screaming by the table as the avalanche covers everything in sight. It's all over in seconds. No one is hurt and the father returns. However those few seconds was all it took for the foundation of trust from wife to husband to shift irrevocably.
At first not a word is said by anyone but it's the children's silence that is most telling. Their unvoiced sense of betrayal simmers underneath while the mother tries to keep her feelings buttoned down. She then gently breaks her concern to him. He sees what happened somewhat differently though it's clear that what he's keeping in is a sense of guilt. The pair are already acquainted with two other separate couples, and in their social chatting, the wife, perhaps assisted by the wine, gently relates to them what had occurred, though with a certain levity in her telling, which the husband superficially brushes off as being only her version, while silently resenting her mentioning the subject at all. (We know that what she says is absolutely what happened). The male of one of the couples tries to justify the his friend's action as being a spur-of-the-moment, unthinking reaction for self-survival, though his defence leads to some tension with his own female partner.
There are long pauses in dialogue, visually matched by superb close to white-out visuals as the family take their ski-ing sessions. I could have done without the regular use of an over-familiar snippet of Vivaldi on the soundtrack. Also, as the father wrestled with his own inner turmoil, I thought his mental self-flagellation became so intense as to be indulgent. It may well have been an accurate portrayal of what can happen to an individual in such a situation but I found it becoming dangerously close to exasperating.
But more than these points, I felt that it would have been an even stronger film if the final quarter hour or so had been lopped off. It still would have been a longish film. In these last minutes two more events happen. Without giving too much away, I'll only say that the first seemed to attempt to put a quasi-redemptive gloss onto the father, while the second happening, utterly different from and unconnected with anything elsewhere in the film, showed (rather clumsily for me, I'm afraid) that there had indeed been a transformation - while the mother, so prominent before, is curiously side-lined in the final shots. No, I would have preferred it with an open ending leaving one to surmise what happened next. Others may not agree. I've not usually had a problem with unresolved situations at ends of films as some others do - after all, life itself does not happen with events occurring in parcels, each closed off and tied up with a ribbon, but they meld into the next one, situations change and compete with each other for prominence. I see life as more like a number of unbroken parallel threads, criss-crossing and getting tangled up, than one like a chain of separate happenings. At least that's my thought, so it doesn't worry me unduly to see films (or novels) ending on irresolution.
Acting throughout was very good indeed. However, I did sometimes think that the little girl, while saying her serious (few) lines, was smiling underneath, maybe self-consciously.
Director Ruben Ostland draws brilliant performances from the adults, particularly both parents.
A good film then, but a shame that, with some judicious pruning, an even better one was so near its grasp.....................6.5.