Force Majeure ****1/2 (out of five)
The most emotionally gripping experience I’ve had in a cinema thus far this year has been in Force Majeure, a masterpiece by young Swedish director Ruben Östlund. A well-off young family of four from Sweden are taking a skiing vacation at a high-end French resort. Something happens, and the ripples from that something are examined with nerve-shattering precision. Every scene is perfect.
If Gone Girl is the melodramatic portrait of marriage as hell, Force Majeure is the dramatic portrait of marriage as fragile. Everything about the bond between Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) is perfect… until suddenly it is not. As the implications of this one event ripple, magnify and, most disturbingly, feed upon themselves, these two best friends are suddenly and horrifically outed as strangers.
There are strong stylistic influences from Kubrick – in the magnificent locked-off shots of hotel corridors, which, while immense, trap our two victims within the frame; of the incredible steadicam skiing shots; and in the rhythms of the editing, which allows for imagery – snowblowers, mountaintops, chair lifts – to add emotional atmosphere to the main story. I also felt great resonance with the films of Haneke, particularly Caché but also his more overtly “horrific” films such as Funny Games. And, in the use of a very early, very unusual, very big dramatic incident to upend our character’s lives, I thought of pretty much all the novels of Ian McEwan, but particularly Endless Love, with its fascinating hot-air balloon incident.
Besides the two leads, there is sublime – in fact, I have to again use the word “perfect” – acting from the two kids and from Kristofer Hivju as Thomas’ great mate who gets caught up in his great mess. What he goes through is what we, the audience go through – unbelievable, gut-twisting tension of the most intimate and realistic kind: social awkwardness that just makes you want to crawl away and die. Easily one of the films of the year; a must-see, and on the big screen, so you can’t escape. You’ve got to just sit there, and squirm.