Review: “Force Majeure” 2.9.15

Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival as well as receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film at this year’s ceremony. “Force Majeure” was a film I had been highly anticipating as many of the films that have either been nominated or won the former award, which has only been around for 16 years, have churned out some of my favorite foreign films, only second to the world’s most prestigious’ category – the Palm d’Or, which is the Cannes’ equivalent of the Academy’s Best Picture. The Un Certain regard category in which I speak of is almost always reserved for films that the Cannes voting panelists find to be of great significance and importance in relation to the international film community. Some films that have either been nominated and/or won this coveted award are as follows: “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005 winner – Russia), “Tyson” (2008 nominee – America), “Dogtooth” (2009 winner – Greece – still one of my all time favorite foreign films), as well as director Andrey Zvyaginstev’s (“Leviathan”) remarkable “Elena” (a 2011 nominee), and the 1-2-3 punch of 2013’s boastful nominees “Stranger by the Lake” (France), “Omar” (Palestine), and “Fruitvale Station” (United States). As I often times do with seeing a film solely based on the directed of who it is attached to, I also see films (especially foreign) that garner nominations in categories in which I find to have great validity by means of reputation. This film was yet another example of that approach to why I watch certain films. Not knowing or having the faintest idea of what it was about but still trusting my intuition and the word of mouth that comes out of Cannes every year.

The film introduces us to a family taking “holiday” (as most of us know the Europeans call it). They’re what you might consider to be the perfect nuclear family – a seemingly strong-willed father Tomas, his wife Ebba, and young daughter Vera and son Harry. Their holiday at a wealthy ski resort in the French Alps seems like the idyllic family vacation. Which we’re shown through a series of photographs as the start of the story. Ebba is just happy to have Tomas to both herself and their children, as it is inferred that he lives a pretty demanding work life at home. They seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, and I couldn’t help but think of an American version of a trip to Disney World, where at the surface level, everything seems to be perfect. That is until one day they experience a catastrophic event, and the residual and lasting effects that it has on the family, particularly of Tomas’ wife Ebba,  while also acting as a sort of “reawakening” for each member to reevaluate both themselves and that of each of the other family members. This is essentially what the movie goes on to explore, without giving away any further plot details.

This wound up being both a beautiful and remarkable film that had my attention from the first frame to its final one. It works on almost all levels – from the story, to the acting, to the amazing cinematography of the French Alps, but even more importantly, how it explored the interpersonal dynamics of a family following a traumatizing event. The undeniably flawless direction by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund is truly a sight to see for any true fan with an eye for film. The film captures this devastating family tragedy amongst the backdrop of the beautiful French Alps. Not only that, but like Bennett Miller (“Capote”, “Foxcatcher”) it does so with such a restrained approach using long take techniques to capture a certain sense of stillness to everything. That and like the late great Stanley Kubrick, the director has an uncanny ability of filling up every single frame of the picture without a single inch going to waste. It also incorporates a beautiful classic score which I thought was right up on par with some of the best compositions of Kubrick’s films, which to me seemed so fascinating to the images being shown on-screen as it seemed to fit perfectly even if it comes off as a questionable choice for a movie score on behalf of the viewer at the beginning. The last but most verbose part of the review which I think is unquestionably worth noting in relation to this film is how deeply rooted it was in psychology. Anybody that really enjoys reading between a film’s lines for its underlying subtext should find this to be one of the more denser films they’ve seen. Evoking the works of the German director Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”, “The White Ribbon”, “Amour”) who acted as a reference point for me in its examination of traumatic events that shows how they manifest themselves from an individual standpoint. Looking at themes such as residual and vicarious trauma, self reevaluation, moral dilemmas, as well as the primitive instincts that make us human beings. This was just another example and further proof of a belief I’ve always held, in that foreign or international cinema, is operating at such a higher plane, than many if not all of its American counterparts that try to explore similar themes but that aren’t able to do so with such assuredness and a sense of realism. This wound up being a thoroughly engaging, well acted and shot, and probing psychological film that explores some very deep and heavy themes, that had my brain’s light switch turned on from start to finish. A must see for any fan even remotely interested in foreign or international cinema that challenges the viewer to really think, as opposed to merely sitting back and being entertained.

[B+]

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2 thoughts on “Review: “Force Majeure” 2.9.15

  1. Grading this slightly lower C+/B- range. Upon reading the reviews of this and critics praise I was more than willing to throw it on the DVD queue. However, it just fell short for me. Yeah the cinematography and acting were fine, but the story itself didn’t do much for me. It completely reminded me of “A Loneliest Planet” (a movie which also had great cinemetography but which I hated) in that one small significant act by the father Tomas is the only thing of substance that triggers the rest of the film. The monotony of the dialogue throughout fell short with me. About 20-25 minutes to long, some completely unnecessary scenes (one imparticular was the meatheads chugging beer in the tent). Was longing to see this being it was regarded as one of the best foreign films of last year but like I said in my opinion fell short.

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  2. I think I’m just going to have to agree to disagree with you here for many of the reasons listed in my review. But particularly your comment about how “one small significant act” drives the rest of the entire film. I thought the avalanche was hugely significant in that it acted as the catalyst for many of the deeper themes the film would go on to explore. The trauma that the family all shared from it, the exploration of trust and how it conflicts with our intuitive instincts, and especially the self revaluation piece. One of the best scenes of the film was when the father breaks down in tears and is kneeling by their hotel door. Up to that point he had been trying to defend his action of trying to escape without helping his family first. But after the many criticisms and scrutinizations of the characters throughout the film for him having chosen to do so, he finally meets his breaking point and just gives into the fact that he was morally wrong in doing so. I found certain scenes like this one that were layered throughout the film were rather profound. It really made you (or at least me think) about the nature of humanity and how we incidentally (or indirectly) have to sometimes face consequences of our actions and how that manifests itself in inner turmoil and self deprecation. Again, it reminded me of Michael Haneke’s (especially “Cache”) in that regard.

    Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention in my review was the cameo by Brady Corbet. I’m a big fan of his and was really really surprised to see him pop up in the dinner scene. What a great, relatively unknown young actor who very specifically seems to pick good roles (“Funny Games”, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, “Simon Killer”, this, etc).

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