What would you do? Could you accurately answer that, without actually being in the situation? And how would you feel about what you did afterwards? I’ve seen these questions posed cinematically before, in a pretty damn brilliant film called “The Loneliest Planet” from 2012. Sweden’s “Force Majeure”, from director Ruben Ostlund, ups the ante though, by focusing on a vacationing family of four, instead of just a young couple on a hiking expedition. That device clicks everything into place with even stronger emotions. And when the family gets a visit from a couple of friends after the “incident”, the gender roles and societal pressures only come into focus more sharply. Believe it or not, there’s even a laugh or two.
Thomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke, quite good), and his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli, marvelous), are at a ski resort with their young daughter Vera, and preschool son, Harry (Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren, respectively). On their second day there, the quartet sits at the outdoor restaurant of their hotel, when resort workers set off a controlled avalanche to enhance skiing conditions. At first all is normal, but the mountain of snow rapidly approaches the dining area, and a catastrophe appears imminent. The restaurant patrons panic and scatter, Tomas and Ebbe included. However, the barreling snow stops short, and no one is physically injured. But where each parent moves to, and what each of their split second reactions are, threatens to end their relationship, and totally alters the level of trust they share.
It’s easy to say that we would all individually go into protective mode if faced with this situation, but a portion of the people presented with this dilemma would certainly react by “saving our own ass”. Would we fault our partner for doing that, especially if we opted to stay near the children? What occurs in “Force Majeure” opens up a Pandora’s box of mistrust, infidelity, and the fallibility of instinct. Should gender come into play? Would you give a “second chance”? These questions are presented, and mostly answered, through excruciatingly realistic scenarios. My own experience as a husband and a father had me enacting a head-spinning self-analysis. “Force Majeure” is superbly written and directed by Mr. Ostlund–he manages to never strike a false note. Initially, I questioned the use of an eaves-dropping resort employee, but ultimately it keeps the plot from drowning in the morose. And when the dynamic of Thomas’s friend Mats (an excellent Kristofer Hivju), and his new young girlfriend (a well-cast Fanni Metelius) comes into play, the issue of choices is only magnified. This is a marvelous foreign language film, that I wish I had seen in time for my annual Top Ten last month–it’s easily one of 2014’s finest.