Opening Friday, October 31 in Los Angeles comes Sweden’s Official Entry for Oscar’s 2014 Best Foreign Language Film, “Force Majeure.” Winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard Jury Prize, Ruben Ostlund’s film is certain to wow audiences as it starts its buzz-worthy run on the West Coast. What’s not to love about a film that boasts an incredible avalanche scene and a major patriarchal breakdown?
“Force Majeure” opens on a slope in the French Alps. A family of four is getting their pictures taken by a pushy photographer. He endlessly poses them to get the perfect family portrait. But is anyone really perfect?
At the ski lodge of Les Arcs (where the film is shot), it’s quickly apparent that Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) is often at work, and wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) goads him to stop paying attention to his phone and start paying more attention to the family. It’s a five-day vacation after all – a holiday for skiing and enjoying time with Ebba and their two children.
On day two (the film is broken into one-day segments), while having breakfast on the lodge’s outdoor terrace on a gorgeous sunny day, an avalanche plummets towards the diners. Although terrifying and chaotic, no one is physically hurt. But the actions taken by Tomas spin the family dynamic seriously out of control.
The three remaining days of the vacation are a rollercoaster for all concerned, including friends Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanni (Fanni Metelius) who join the family. Ostlund, a technologically savvy filmmaker with Ingmar Bergman sensibilities, handles these emotional undercurrents with a wry touch.
Filmmaker Ostlund explains that he has always been fascinated with how humans react by traumatic events or catastrophes. He remarks in his film’s press notes that two Swedish friends of his were vacationing in Latin America when two gunmen appeared and opened fired. The husband left the wife and ran for cover. This created much tension between the two – the wife’s expectation was that the husband would of course protect her.
Intrigued by their story, Ostlund looked at studies and found that people act in unpredictable, often selfish ways in the face of catastrophic events. The code of chivalry often doesn’t exist. In fact, studies show that many couples that survive an event like a hijacking or shipwreck often divorce later.
It’s from this fascination with these findings that “Force Majeure” was born. Certain to create lively discussion long after the end credits roll, the film is indeed provocative on a sociological level. It’s also visually stunning. The avalanche scene is frightening, as are the nightly sounds of explosions purposely set up along the ski mountain to try and prevent further snow slides.
To achieve the visual style, Ostlund states that he and cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel shot with anamorphic lenses on the ARRI Alexa camera, “to achieve a truly epic sense of framing in the mountain environment.” As with his three earlier features, Ostlund utilizes CG to enhance the visuals, using Photoshop and After Effects. His skill level is high and although shots are enhanced, the effect between realism and digital is seamless.
“Force Majeure” is a powerful, yet relatable psychological thrill ride. Ruben Ostlund’s film might very well get a nomination come Oscar time.
“Force Majeure” is 118 minutes, Rated R and opens October 31st in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and Sundance Sunset Cinema.