Force Majeure (Magnolia Pictures, R)

film Force-Majeure_75Force Majeure is something of a chamber piece, and is as engrossing as one to have come along recently.




film Force-Majeure

It’s been a good year for Swedish film. Lukas Moodysson’s excellent return to form We Are the Best! was released in America (though it came out in its homeland last year); Roy Andersson debuted his first film in seven years, entitled A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (to be released here next year); and, to the most international acclaim thus far, is Ruben Östlund’s Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Force Majeure. (The film is also Sweden’s official entry into the Oscars’ Best Foreign-Language Film race.)

Force Majeure is one of those insidious little movies that’s never really about quite what you expect, and while that description is often code for “This movie is a thriller, but I don’t want to give that fact away,” Force Majeure is something of a chamber piece, and is as engrossing as one to have come along recently. The short version of the somewhat unusually structured plot is that matriarch Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and patriarch Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) take their two children on a ski trip in the French Alps. On the second day of the trip, an avalanche strikes that threatens everyone’s lives, and the rest of the film deals with the fallout from the avalanche.

While all of the film’s moving parts are handled deftly, the biggest credit to the film is Östlund’s screenplay, which handles the escalation of events and the relationships between characters in a way familiar in real life, but not so common in fiction films. It seems reasonable to think that some of Force Majeure’s audience will go to it expecting a disaster movie—which this film is and isn’t—but it isn’t hard to let yourself be sold on the film’s success, even if it is something you’re not expecting. This is also in debt to Kongsli and Kuhnke’s performances, which don’t obscure the ring of truth from Östlund’s dialogue and set pieces.

Swedish cinematic exports are often recognizable for the reserved and restrained nature of their storytelling. This, of course, is exhibited in the works of Ingmar Bergman, still far and away the country’s best-known filmmaker, but also look at something like Let the Right One In, as it compares to other vampire movies. Force Majeure is certainly keeping with this expectation of Swedish national cinema, and it’s a style I seem only to enjoy more and more. Here’s hoping as many good films come out of Sweden next year, too. | Pete Timmermann

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