Force Majeure is Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s take on a husband and wife reanalyzing their marriage after a breach of trust. Told over a five-day ski holiday to France, the story follows a low point in Ebba and Tomas’ marriage (played by Lisa Loven Kongsli and Johannes Kuhnke) after he “accidentally” abandons the family when a controlled avalanche appears about to engulf a restaurant where they are having lunch with their two children. While he is filming the event on his iPhone, he panics and leaves his children and wife at the table, but remembers to pick up his ski gloves as he flees. Even though a marriage contract doesn’t spell out what is supposed to happen in these circumstances, we know that there has been a breach somewhere. The question is whether or not Tomas will realize that and whether Ebba will allow him a chance to fix it.
As the movie progresses, a wider circle of hotel guests and staff are brought into a family squabble. The hotel room with two children is not the place to work out marital issues and the couple exiles themselves to the walkway outside their room under the gaze of the staff, and I am guessing any guest in earshot. Ebba’s insecurity is contagious and visiting friends start to question their relationships, too and the children fear that their parents might end up divorcing.
Both Kuhnke and Loven Kongsli are believable as a husband and wife and the screenplay is nuanced enough that we come to see what they might love and hate about one another. Tomas is not the ideal husband, but then very few men are. He suffers from the modern afflictions of approaching middle age and overwork that makes him distant from his family. His complete denial of his cowardice at first and what it means to Edda makes his descent into questioning his marriage frustrating to watch. He is a typical male, but we aren’t asked to let him off the hook for that. At the same time, Edda may be prone to overreacting to his behavior. That wider circles of people are involved in her conflict is as much her fault as his. There is nothing in a marriage contract that specifies that everyone must be competent in their roles, and the final scene indicates that Edda might not have the patience to suffer normal amounts of incompetence.
I enjoyed this movie, and I hope it finds its US audience. It straddles both comedy and drama. If anything, the people in the audience I attended with seemed impressed by the lovely shots of the French Alps. I found the soundtrack a little tedious, with the same sample of Vivali’s Four Seasons played on the accordion, but if you look past that, Force is one of the better movies out this year on adult issues.
***1/2 of five.
IMDB: Force Majeure