Alan Laidlaw reviews Force Majeure, a Swedish-made tragi-drama that could well go down as one of this decade’s best films
Once in a while you come across a scene with a special quality. A scene so powerful, striking and monumental you feel as if you’ve been struck on the head by the image in front of you, leaving an ache that lingers. It was present in Blade Runner with Rutger Hauer’s tears in the rain speech, in the sublimely horrific ending of Don’t Look Now, and when Rick and Ilsa said their goodbyes in Casablanca. After leaving the screening of Force Majeure I scratched my head, feeling I had experienced the very same sensation again.
Ruben Ostlund’s fourth feature film is a structurally peculiar beast. The dialogue and action are set almost exclusively around the fall-out from one scene: seeing an avalanche cascade from the side of a nearby ski slope, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), fearing for his life, is seen to abandon his wife and kids during a meal and run for safety. The remainder of the film is a vigorous and ruthless examination of gender politics, based around Tomas’ inability to come to terms with what he may or may not have done.
Ostlund, like his Swedish predecessor Ingmar Bergman, is all too aware of the power of space. His camera dictates exactly how much control each character has in any given situation, like a chess master strategically moving his pieces. What separates him from other directors following Bergman’s lead is his ability to allow the action to flow in a natural manner. Never does his style stifle the narrative – a problem that even a modern great like Michael Haneke has suffered from in the past.
Like the very best films, Force Majeure not only manages to communicate its philosophy to the viewer, but forces us to question our own. It’s beautifully constructed, ripe for deconstructions and re-visitations, yet breezily succeeds at being a poignant and immediate analysis of a marriage on the brink of failure.
This is not only the best film to be produced in Sweden for a long time, but it’s set to go down as one of the best made anywhere this decade.
Force Majeure is in cinemas now.