Earlier this month, David Fincher’s adaptation of “Gone Girl” viewed a soured relationship through the guise of an outlandish murder-mystery and media satire. It has a quieter (though no less effective or tense) cousin in “Force Majeure,” which hits theaters today. The set-up – family goes on vacation at an Alpine ski resort, only to be threatened by an avalanche – sounds like it could easily be a survivalist drama, be it inspiring or bleak, but director Ruben Ostlund has something more cutting and darkly funny on his mind, setting most of the action after everyone’s safe but no one is fine.
The incident that brings the marriage of Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) has also been compared to Julia Loktev’s masterful “The Loneliest Planet,” but Ostlund makes their conflict more verbal and openly bitter as they pick at each other. The film also includes their kids in on the situation, frequently showing how children pick up on when their parents are fighting. And through it all, Ostlund demonstrates a Michael Haneke-like level of formal control while also showing a fine sense of humor, cementing himself as a major talent.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Adam Chitwood, Collider
We’d all like to think that we would make the “right” decision in dire straits, but when push comes to shove, not everyone would. Is it a remnant of our evolutionary self-preservation, or does it speak to how we really feel about those around us? Both Tomas and Ebba wrestle with this question onscreen, as Ebba feels Tomas’ action must mean that he somehow doesn’t care about his family, while Tomas can’t even face what he did and tries desperately to explain it away as being simply untrue. Read more.
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
At Cannes, many drew comparisons between another, superior festival favorite, whose name I’ll omit here, as its power derives from an element of surprise. But “Force Majeure” takes a different tack than that masterpiece, finding quite a bit of comedy in the meltdown its protagonist suffers, while also plausibly exploring how a couple might deal with the fallout of such an incident. It’s formally masterful, too, with Östlund employing carefully framed long takes for both dramatic and comedic effect. Read more.
Kate Erbland, Film School Rejects
This may not sound funny, but Ostlund’s film is so finely observed and so intentionally light that black humor and a vibrant spirit diffuse the drama of the situation, and everything that would otherwise feel perilous and emotional (even massive crying jags) is instead deeply funny. “Force Majeure” is funny because it’s true, and the arguments that Ebba and Tomas continually cycle through (over and over again) aren’t unique to them or their outsized situation. They are, however, played for laughs, and do they ever work. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
As a slow-burn melodrama, “Force Majeure” is expertly crafted. Cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel bathes most scenes in the drab lighting of the resort’s interiors, establishing the superficiality of the couple’s relationship even as it continues to crumble. But the close-ups tells a different story. Kuhnke does a remarkable job of embodying the overly confident Tomas as a man at war with confronting his flaws, and Kongsli’s ongoing attempts to force a confession out of him leads to a captivating set of encounters. Read more.
Ben R. Nicholson, CineVue
After a banal period of scene-setting, from the unfortunate incident onwards Östlund takes pains to tighten the atmosphere exponentially – his cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel frames the couple in exposing two-shots whenever possible, allowing neither of them any place to hide. It’s like Michael Haneke does cringe-comedy as Ebba’s vexation escalates when Tomas refuses to admit the nature of his actions; two separate dinner dates end in uncomfortable bickering. Read more.