RIFF: “Force Majeure” (2014): One Awkward Vacation (Review)
Like director Ruben Östlund’s previous film, Play, Force Majeure (Turist) is not an easy film to watch (though still not nearly as uncomfortable) and open to much interpretation. In Play Östlund was dealing with issues of race (in such a way many deemed it racist) and class but this time he’s dealing with issues of gender roles as well as courage vs. cowardice.
The film tells the story of a Swedish family, a very typical family consisting of a mother and a father and two children, a boy and a girl. This family is on vacation on a ski resort in France. When disaster nearly strikes, the residue of a so-called “controlled” avalanche hits the family and for a moment they think they’re in great danger. The mother goes to protect the children while the father just runs for his life, leaving his family behind. This is only the beginning of what turns out to be a very awkward vacation for the family.
Force Majeure is in essence a study in masculinity vs. femininity and plays with the ideas of what makes a man, or even what makes a hero. It’s also really not so much about how one reacts in a crisis as it is a study on how society tells us we should react, and how we react to these reactions. In the beginning the father denies that he ran away and can’t admit to his cowardice, much to the mother’s dismay.
Much of the film consists of scenes playing out in long static shots, letting the viewer decide where to focus his or her viewpoint. This is a style is reminiscent of filmmakers like Michael Haneke and you could say Östlund’s style is a bit Haneke-lite, though he does manage to give it his own flavour. And also, like many of Haneke’s films (and like Play), Force Majeure is not an easy movie to decipher or write about and that’s most definitely intentional. Östlund wants to make the viewer feel ambivalent about things and doesn’t give clear answers or make things easy for the viewer, rather than they are for the characters here. It’s a movie that sticks with you and really makes you think about the matters at hand.
This is a film that many will not like (or even hate) but it’s also hard to ignore. While you can easily call it pretentious (and it is a little bit pretentious) it’s also smart and superbly crafted. It starts off seeming like yet another pretentious art-house flick but gradually gets to you and its effects are hard to deny, it’s a movie that occasionally jolts you but also makes you squirm in discomfort.
Without spoiling too much it must be said Force Majeure has a case of too many endings, there comes a certain point which feels like the right ending for this movie, but then it goes on a little longer which feels like a mistake, though the final moment makes it almost worth it. One things for sure though: Ruben Östlund is one helluva director. This a beautifully shot, very well edited and often masterfully staged film and he gets terrific performances out of all the actors.
The Good: It’s beautifully shot and superbly acted, Östlund certainly can direct.
The Bad: It probably would have been even better if it would have ended sooner.
The Uncomfortable: Those kids and how they react to their parents’ arguments, will someone please think about the children!