Force Majeure may be a film Stanley Kubrick directed would he be alive. Of course, that’s a bold claim. Let me settle on someone who is trying to mimic Kubrick would make. And mimic well.
The modern ski resort in the Swiss Alps has the architectural coldness of the Overlook Hotel, even more so. The vast hotel with the endless open hallways and doors with a number. Like the Shining, this is a story of fatherhood and manhood. The family we follow is beautiful. Tomas and Ebba are young, in shape, and well-dressed. Their children are the children you see in paintings. There’s a coldness about them, but that just may be their Scandinavian nature.
During an outdoor lunch, a controlled avalanche hurls towards the deck, seemingly ready to destroy everyone. Tomas grabs his phone and runs, while Ebba stays to protect the children. It’s just the dust from the avalanche, and soon everyone sits back down and continues on with their day. Everyone, except Ebba, who cannot get over the fact that her husband, in the face of death, ran to save himself. She brings it up to him tentatively at first, but it consumes her mind and finally, she brings it up in front of their friends, Mats and Fanny. The conversation affects Mats and Fanny, who then bicker about what they would do in that situation.
Tomas eventually breaks down, and it’s unclear how Ebba feels about him. Suring a family ski run during a bad storm, Ebba is hurt and Tomas rushes to save her, potentially trying to make up for his blunder before. On the bus ride back down the mountain, Ebba insists that everyone leave the bus because of the incompetent driver, thus saving her family, once again the protector. On the walk down the mountain road, a man gives Tomas a cigarette. Mats comments, “I didn’t know you smoked.” “Now I do, he remarks.” This is an obvious callback to an earlier line in the film in which Tomas talks about how he wants to be the man who saves his children. Here, he wants to be a man who smokes, and it’s his choice.
Force Majeure, despite being about relationships, is light on dialogue, and heavy on scenery and directing. The modern, luxurious ski resort is rather bleak, and couples with the blinding white snow, has a depressing feel. Shots stay on characters and scenes without breaking, creating the tension. The jolting bits of dramatic music call a horror film. I am unclear of the director/writer’s process, but it is possible that he saw the ski resort first, and thought, what a cold and sterile place where people may go for luxury and leisure, but it’s quite stark. It would be a place where a family breaks down. Or, perhaps. he wanted to make a film about a family falling apart, and found a ski resort as the place to do it.
The most brilliant scene work had little to do with the plot. The panoramic views of the mountains and the lighted “explosions” that go off at the resort, the scene where Mats and Tomas are enjoying a drink at an outdoor bar and two women seem to hit on them and then quickly insult them, the shot of the family emerging from the tunnel exit from the resort, anxiously waiting to return home.
I don’t love this movie in the way that I love the characters, the story, the style. I love it in the way that it left me feeling angry and cynical. If a film has the power to do that, it’s worth the time.