Force Majeure (2014)
Cinema is a fabricated world in which idealised images of femininity and masculinity flow like waterfalls from screens into popular culture. Most of it goes unchallenged but every now and then a film comes along to expose the fabricated nature of gender identity. This is the core premise of Force Majeure (2014), a film that works by shattering a father’s idealised image as head of family and then exploring the fallout. Far from psycho-babble, it is a highly engaging but unsettling story about the gender-based expectations that hold most human relationships together and a film that compels self-reflection.
The plot is simple: a Swedish family is on holiday in the Swiss Alps when something happens that transforms their lives in a matter of seconds. Businessman Tomas and wife Ebba are breakfasting with their two young children on a hotel balcony while enjoying the snowfield panorama. A controlled explosion triggers an unexpected avalanche and panicked guests flee but the family watch the spectacle in disbelief. Suddenly the avalanche towers threateningly over the balcony. The incident turns out to be harmless, but Ebba and the children are shaken by the event and especially by their father’s response to the apparent danger. The rest of the film is like a slow-motion train wreck as Tomas goes through processes of denial and disbelief followed by the disintegration of his self-image. Without the identity he has built up over a lifetime he is reduced to a blubbering wreck, totally confused about ‘the man’ he thought he was.
This is a beautifully filmed psychological drama with several comedic touches to ease the tension of watching Tomas’s meltdown and the effect on his family. Character-driven rather than action-based, many scenes feel overly long with the camera dwelling on minor detail or sub-plots to fill out the cinematic space. This is complex territory for a movie and the ‘superior force’ in the title is not just the avalanche. It explores the gap between who we really are and the roles we have learnt to play, and what happens when the role-playing falls apart. The story twists and turns towards an ambivalent climax that will leave you wondering how any marriage could survive such an unravelling of masculine identity.
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Stars: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren