Force Majeure

Reviewed for Empire Online as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015:

One of the highlights of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival was Force Majeure, a provocative, expertly crafted marital drama that contains one of the most remarkable sequences in recent memory. The sequence in question takes place at a fancy Alpine ski resort, where a handsome Swedish couple — Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) — are having lunch with their two children. Sitting on a scenic terrace, they suddenly become aware that a tidal wave of snow is cascading towards them. In a moment of instinctive panic, Tomas runs for his life, leaving Ebba and the kids behind. The avalanche doesn’t quite reach them in the end, meaning that no one is physically hurt, but on a deeper level the damage is irrevocable.

The rest of the film deals with the fallout from Tomas’s actions (or lack thereof), as it soon becomes clear that Ebba is unable to let the matter drop. What follows is hypnotic and deliberately paced, with writer-director Ruben Östlund using long static shots to observe these characters during a number of painfully awkward scenes. Along the way, he examines masculinity and traditional gender roles (what is expected of the man, etc), forcing us to ask ourselves some very difficult questions. If you’re a man, what would you do in the same situation? If you’re a woman, how do you think your partner would react? Some viewers will find that Force Majeure is simply too uncomfortable for their tastes, but few would deny that it’s a thought-provoking piece of work.