12/17/14

Force Majeure is a Flurry, not an Avalanche

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FORCE MAJEURE (2014)
Directed and written by Ruben Örtlund
Magnolia Pictures, 118 minutes, R (for brief nudity and cursing in Swedish)
*

Swedish director Ruben Örtlund has a good photographic eye. He serves up jaw-dropping views of the French Alps and gorgeously textured shots of small domestic moments such as a family tranquilly snoozing in their matching long johns. Alas, he's a lousy scriptwriter and director. The term force majeure is used in legal proceedings to refer to an event such as a flood, hurricane, or other unavoidable accident that relieves parties of liability. Nice try, but Örtlund bears the blame for this film. There's no sense pulling any punches; Force Majeure is a very bad and very boring film.

It centers on a Yuppie Swedish couple, Tomas (Johannes Kahnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their oh-so-perfect children Harry and Vera. Tomas is work-obsessed and addicted to his cellphone, but perhaps a ski vacation in the French Alps is just what is needed to reconnect with his child-centered wife and his privileged, but pouting brood. Or, maybe not! Things go wrong on day two when a resort-induced avalanche gets a bit too close to the resort and terrifies lunchtime patrons. In the end, no one is hurt as what appeared to be a wall of snow was but an icy fog rolling off the edge of the snow slide. However, Tomas' frightened every-man-for-himself bolt leaves Ebba shattered and throws an already troubled marriage into deeper crisis when he denies that he put his own safety above that of his family.

I guess this is a metaphor for something: Deep-seated abandonment desires? Lack of virility? Male selfishness? How risk aversion leads to stultifying stasis? The sterility of middle-class life? Tomas' flight leads Ebba to question her own life. Should she have an affair like the free-spirited woman she meets in the pub? Walk away from her marriage? Make it work? Does Tomas need to go to an Iron John seminar to recoup his masculine Mojo? Do a 180 and become a Sensitive New Age Guy? Copy his buddy Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and take up with a mistress half his age? Do we care? Nope! The film's premise is thinner than the Alpine air and any gravitas it appears to have is but a passing fog. You can safely nod off for long stretches. Any time something even remotely dramatic happens—like Tomas forgetting his room key card––Ola Flottum's score gives us a cheesy organ treatment of Vivaldi to warn us to pay close attention. (Seriously, Boris Karloff would have rejected this music—and that's no slam on Vivaldi.) 

Force Majeure is really about rich Yuppies suffering from problems of their own manufacture—making an Alp out of an anthill, if you will. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the patently absurd manner in which Tomas and Ebba at least temporarily resolve their differences. (For those of you who must see this film despite my warning, pay attention to the film's final ski sequence. Then email me with the subject line "You told me so!") Worse still, Örtlund takes two hours to tell a non-tale that warrants 30 minutes at best. My favorite moments in the film itself—as opposed to still shots–involved observing Hivju's impressive red beard. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a metaphor for how bored I was.—Rob Weir

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