FORCE MAJEURE (Ruben Ostlund, 2014)
FORCE MAJEURE, the observational drama from Sweden is a quiet, dynamic study of gender roles between man and woman, husband and wife, placed under the microscope following an unexpected accident. While having their breakfast on the patio of a ski resort in the French Alps, businessman Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children (Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren) witness a "controlled avalanche", a man-made avalanche created to avert the occurrence of a bigger, more destructive avalanche. Tomas assures his family that it's perfectly safe, even videotaping the avalanche in his cellphone. However, as the avalanche draws closer and closer, the guests panic, and Ebba is left aghast at what happens next.
Tomas goes on with their vacation as if nothing happened. But soon, the elephant in the room needed addressing, and Ebba hounds her husband every chance she gets about what happened. She is shocked more at her husband's response than what he actually did.
Third parties come in to the equation. Ebba mentions the incident to Tomas' friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his younger girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius), in front of Tomas. Ebba finds a shoulder with Fanni, while Mats tries to rationalize Tomas' behavior, in lieu of Tomas' lack of explanation. Funny enough, Tomas and Ebba's conflict becomes Mats and Fanni's as well as soon as they head back to their own room. Mats' manhood becomes scarred by Fanni saying that he will most likely act like Tomas when faced in the same situation.
While mostly dialogue-heavy, all throughout, but most especially during the first half of the film, FORCE MAJEURE becomes real interesting as the characters' five-day vacation draws to a close. Director Ruben Ostlund injects biting sarcasm into the frame. A sticker of a chicken on their hotel room door irritates Tomas, and; Mats and Tomas gets a case of mistaken identity on the resort's rest area, which further mocks their man ego.
One may be inclined to side with either the man or the woman perspective in this film depending on personal views about gender roles and parental responsibility. FORCE MAJEURE beckons us to analyze the issue of social expectation on married life from all possible angles, which is why the characters of Mats and Fanni are essential, representing the observers, the third party who shall provide an external point of view. Though in this case, the observers seem to put more gasoline to the fire.
The film is very visual in its depiction of its subject. The avalanche itself is a humongous metaphor of the downhill slope of the characters' marriage. The ice represents the cold and ever-growing distance between Tomas and Ebba. The thick fog is the shroud of mystery between them, where they don't seem to recognize each other anymore.
The film is rightfully entitled so. Force Majeure, a clause in contracts that frees both parties from legal obligation to fulfill the contract in the event of an unforeseeable circumstance to which both parties have no control over, is cleverly depicted in the film's beginning. The contract here therefore being marriage, both a legal and social contract. The film is notable for its unflinching aim to confront us with the issue of survival. It puts the viewer to the test, that in the event of a catastrophe, what will we do? And it tests us so without any prejudice.