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Review: Force Majeure

Ruben Östlund creates films that look like they belong in a museum. Happily, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, is the current stop for the traveling retrospective “In Case Of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund”, which runs through April 14th.

Ideally, the best place to begin with Östlund would be the start of his filmmaking career, (before working on feature films and short, he was the director of skiing movies). But if we choose to work backwards, watching Force Majeure would be an excellent place to get acquainted with the style and complexity of the films of Ruben Östlund.

Compared to his other films, Force Majeure can strangely be called ‘accessible’, which is an unexpected description to give to an Östlund film, because for certain audience members, Force Majeure will be entirely inaccessible. This is perhaps a perfect reaction to the film, as his style of filmmaking is extremely divisive, and quite voyeuristic.

The party being watched in Force Majeure is a family of skiers, (Östlund returning to the top of the mountain, so to speak). The family in Force Majeure is as plain as could be, as it consists of a father, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), mother, Ebba, (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and children Vera and Harry, (Clara and Vincent Wettergen). The family is observed, (and observed is the correct term, as Östlund’s steady camera makes the audience members feel like active participants) brushing their teeth together, up in the slopes, lounging around the hotel, basically observing a typical family ski vacation. But there is a surprise. Unlike many of his earlier films that are as natural as possible, Östlund inserts a piece of music that is used repeatedly, the Summer finale from Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which captures the basic action almost perfectly.

But then, about twenty minutes into the film, something happens which rocks the foundation of the family, and informs much of the action going forward. At risk of not giving away too much, let’s just say that fans of Seinfeld would appreciate the gag, but Östlund takes it somehow a step further, and the comic elements of the film, (it is extremely funny), come from a certain sense of uncomfortableness that permeates the film.

In essence, Force Majeure seems to echo with early Michael Haneke, but without the sense of dread and nihilism that accompanies Haneke, as there is a certain natural charm that comes out in Force Majeure, with the exception of one scene, which just seems mean-spirited. Östlund places the camera a medium distance, far away from the action to seem like an observer, but close enough to the crashing human landscapes to seem involved.

In short, Force Majeure will provoke an instinctual and visceral reaction from its audience, and appropriately released around Halloween, as for certain members of the audience, there will not be a scarier, creepier film this year than Force Majeure.

Then Mats shows up, (Kristopher Hivju, and yes, he is best known as Tormund Giantsbane in Game of Thrones) along with his much younger girlfriend Fanny, and there is a subplot with Ebba’s friend’s chasing a younger man, (Brady Corbet). There are enough discussions that will arise from a viewing of Force Majeure that it is essential viewing, but we imagine will play especially well with a couple on a date, or one that has been together for much longer.

[star v=4]