According to Investopedia.com, force majeure is “A French term literally translated as ‘greater force’, this clause is included in contracts to remove liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events and restrict participants from fulfilling obligations.” A so-called “act of god” is a good example of this, and one such occurrence sets the stage for the plot and theme of Force Majeure, a stylish Swedish movie written and directed by Ruben Östlund that scored the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard.
Tomas (Johannes Bah Kunke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are a Swedish middle class couple vacationing in the French Alps with their young son and daughter. In a bit of clever casting, Vera and Harry are played by real life sister and brother, Clara and Vincent Wettergren. Some sly dialogue in passing fills us in on the fact that this ski holiday is a rarity, as Tomas is so busy with his career. These throwaway lines (the film is mostly in Swedish and French, with subtitles and some dialogue in English) inform what happens next.
Your plot spoiler averse reviewer won’t tell you exactly what that is. Except to say that in this precarious world of climate change, war and the like, this morality play ponders what we’d do when faced with a force majeure. (Some reviewers, such as at least one of KPCC’s blabbermouths on FilmWeek, belong to “The Edward Snowden School of Movie Reviewing”, willy-nilly revealing punchlines, plot points and the like, spoiling viewers’ own joy of discovery, because these WikiLeak-type bigmouths are probably trying to enhance their own reviews by misappropriating films’ best jokes, storylines, etc., to burnish their lackluster coverage.)
Meanwhile, back at the review:
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The perpetrator of the apparent misdeed is in denial over the course of action (uh, or lack of) when the titular force majeure happens, which rocks the marriage and parent-child relationships to the core. The film becomes an examination of gender roles, marital relations, parental responsibility and of this petit bourgeois couple and their children. Interaction with a janitor at the posh Alpine resort where the family is vacationing also cannily injects a class dimension into the story. As things come undone the perp seeks redemption.
As recently observed in a review of August Strindbergs The Dance of Death by L.A.’s A Noise Within theatre company, Force Majeure is also in a long line of “arts reflecting the Scandinavian psyche, including dramatists Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen, painter Edvard Munch (who unleashed upon the world The Scream), filmmakers Victor Sjöström, Carl Theodor Dreyer and of course Ingmar Bergman... Even the marriage of Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the fictionalized first female prime minister of Denmark in the stellar Danish TV series Borgen, falls apart -- not even her nation’s most powerful person can keep her marriage together.”
But for this reviewer, Force Majeure is most in keeping with the theme of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. In any case, there is some stunning cinematography of ski and snow. Plus excellent use of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Season.” The ending of this highly philosophical film reminded your critic of Luis Bunuel’s 1972 The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie -- but since loose lips sink ships, you can find out for yourself what is meant by that.
Force Majeure opens Oct. 24 in New York and Oct. 31 in L.A.