Force Majeure by Ruben Östlund

Force Majeure (Turist), dir. Ruben Östlund. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Force Majeure (Turist), dir. Ruben Östlund. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The aftermath of the avalanche at the film’s opening lingers throughout the rest of the film, making this film feel more like a thriller than a study of the disruption of domestic bliss. At any moment, you expect a ski lift to stop working mid-air, or a skier to fall off and disappear—but what is unexpected is the series of firework-like fights and confessions that lurk in the the perfectly gleaming corners of the ski lodge, waiting to jump out at you. Scoring the suspense is the constant hum, whirl, and grind of the machines that make life in the French Alps comfortable for the affluent holiday-makers. You start to be suspicious of the gorgeous alpine scenery, knowing that man-made machines make the slopes smooth and hazard-free. Nothing must disrupt the business of holiday-making, particularly of people who work really hard in order to afford this sort of relaxation. You can’t even get place to place by walking, only by comfortable, warm and noisy conveyances which bring people from the cold to the warmth, from nature to luxury, and which falsely give the impression of being removed from danger. The cinematography—for most of the scenes, the camera is held still, and not always aimed at the main speaker or activity—just lets the drama and the thrill of discovery unfold.

Leave it to a Swedish filmmaker from “the school of Gothenburg” to make a thriller about failed bourgeois expectations and bourgeois malaise. I was spellbound by the moments of non-activity, waiting for something to happen, but also acutely aware of the emotional turmoil which all the characters wore as tightly as a ski jumpsuit. The suspense lasts until the very end, even after they reunite and head home—Östlund slyly reminds us that we’re not out of the woods yet. Though the family is reunited, their life life will always be full of unpleasant surprises. In the terrific and satisfyingly-unresolved ending the family and their fellow skiers get off the bus, as though realizing that walking through nature is safer than being protected by man-made trappings. I couldn’t help but think of all the walking in Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Force Majeure (Turist), dir. Ruben Östlund, 118 min. Film i Väst, Coproduction Office, et al., 2014. In Swedish, English and French.


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