Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review: Force Majeure

Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Those who enjoy a bit of acidity in their comedy will not want to miss out on Ruben Ostlund's acerbically, hilariously on-point "Force Majeure," which breaks down male-female relations so bleakly - yet accurately - that it could make for the month's most uncomfortable date. But in the best of ways.

The picture follows a Swedish family of four - workaholic father who can't break away from his cell phone, frustrated wife and occasionally raucous, young son and daughter - during a particularly disastrous trip to a French ski resort.

All is going reasonably well until the family, sitting at an outdoor deck restaurant below a massive mountain, spot an avalanche heading their way. They panic as it appears that the snow slide will reach them (when, in fact, they are merely covered by a blast of snowy air and dust) and Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), in a moment of fright, grabs his cell and flees, leaving wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and his kids to fend for themselves.

The incident - which reminds me of a similar sequence of impulsive male behavior gone wrong in Julia Loktev's 2011 film "The Loneliest Planet" - goes unmentioned until the couple's friends Mats (Kristoger Hivju) and Fanny (Fanni Metelius) show up and it manages to make their way into their dinner conversation, which becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

Then, in the film's funniest scene, that awkward conversation drags over into Mats and Fanny's relationship as they bicker amongst themselves in their own room later that night. Hardly anyone in the theater where I saw the film could prevent themselves from snickering during their discussion in the dark.

What's so unnerving - and hilariously so - is how Ostlund near perfectly captures the way that men and women argue, rationalize their own behavior and ultimately snap. Ebba appears more angry at Tomas for the fact that his version of events doesn't quite gel with hers (he claims to not remember leaving them there, that is, until she reminds him that the entire incident was filmed on his cell phone) than his having fled his family. He continues to deny doing that of which he is accused, although it's clear to anyone watching that he's attempting to convince himself.

And the film culminates with a sequence of equal peril during which the tables are turned, but only just slightly enough that you have to pay attention to watch how the various characters - all four of the adults, at least - act.

"Force Majeure" is a clever and frequently very funny movie, but it also works as a dour view of a relationship unravelling. The film takes its time to deliver its punchlines and ideas, but those with patience will be amply rewarded. It's the type of movie that will likely make for great conversation - and possibly - heated argument. You've been warned.

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