Thursday, 30 October 2014

FORCE MAJEURE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Swede Domestic Drama @TIFFBellLightBox

Perfection is in the eye
of the beholder.
Disaster, however,

is always looming.
Force Majeure (2014)
Dir. Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A perfect nuclear family from Sweden - gorgeous, physically fit and full of smiles - pose for holiday snaps on the slopes during a ski vacation in the French Alps. They appear, for all intents and purposes, to have a perfect existence. Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are such peas in a pod they perform nightly ablutions together with vigour and their two children actually get along with each other, happy playing like little piggies in a mud pen. All four of them even wear stylish matching pyjamas as they nap together after a few hours of exercising their ludicrously lithe bodies in out-of-doors family-fun-frolics.

How could anything go wrong?

Well, from the very opening frames and onwards, filmmaker Ruben Östlund has us believing that nothing could be this perfect. His miss-en-scene is rife with gorgeously composed, almost perfectly symmetrical shots with long takes and very judicious cutting. The pace is so meticulous, so strangely mannered, that something, anything, could happen. Sure enough, whilst they all happily dine on an outdoor terrace, a huge avalanche crashes down and everyone in view of the fixed position of the camera disappears in a spray of snow.

False alarm.

As they fog of snow dissipates, it's clear the avalanche fell with considerable force, but at a great distance away. Ebba and the children, still at the table, gather their wits about them. Tomas enters the frame and the four sit down to eat. Little does Tomas know, but he's in big trouble - or rather, his actions during the false disaster have placed a seed in Ebba's mind that's only going to grow - a seed of doubt. It's going to produce a sharp thorn that Ebba's going to repeatedly pierce Tomas with until she creates an open wound that's going to fester like some rapid flesh eating disease.

Does Tomas really love his family? Does he love Ebba? Does he care about anyone other than himself? If he did, why would he leave his family behind and run like a coward when disaster seemingly struck? This is a question that comes up again and again and yet again. Ebba not only casts aspersions upon her husband's manhood, but begins to construct a belief that their marriage is in serious jeopardy. If she kept it between them, it would be one thing, but she hurls her accusatory doubts in front of the children, strangers and even close friends who join them on the trip. The construct becomes an inescapable reality and over the next five days in the Alps, Östlund serves us domestic fireworks - Swedish style, of course - as things get intensely, harrowingly and even hilariously chilly.

Force Majeure is, for most of its running time, a tour de force of domestic drama dappled with mordant wit amidst a snowy backdrop. With sharp writing, gorgeous, controlled direction and performances that are quite perfect, it's too bad Östlund's screenplay hands us a major copout during the final third when he manufactures a false, forced symmetry to the aforementioned situation - one that's so predictable we can't actually believe it's happening. When it does, indeed, unfurl, the almost inept balancing of the conjugal power dynamic feels painfully didactic. In a movie where we're normally on the edge of our seats, wondering what could be lurking round every corner, we suspect Östlund could take us in this particular direction, but we assume he never would.

We assumed ever-so mistakenly.


Force Majeur is playing theatrically via FilmsWeLike at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.