Force Majeure examines the discomfort of a dysfunctional family

by Mark Burger

In writer/director Ruben Östlund’s impressively composed Force Majeure, a family’s five-day skiing vacation in the French Alps becomes anything but relaxing when, while lunching at an outdoor restaurant, they witness a supposedly controlled avalanche that unexpectedly sends clouds of snow billowing over them.

The experience frightens them all, particularly wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), who insists that husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) grabbed his cellphone and ran for cover, which left her behind with their spooked children. As it turns out, no one is injured and everyone soon resumes places, albeit slightly shaken.

Whether the avalanche was controlled is never disclosed, but control soon becomes the focus of the story. The incident appears to have irrevocably altered the family dynamic. The children (real-life siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren, making their screen debuts) become surly and uncommunicative, and Ebba continually brings the issue up in conversation, thereby making it an ongoing topic of discussion among their friends and fellow vacationers “” much to Tomas’ increasing annoyance.

The film (originally titled Turist), which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is Sweden’s official selection for the Academy Award, is being promoted (to an extent) as a comedy/ drama. Some of Östlund’s observations are unmistakably satirical, sometimes viciously so, but Force Majeure is more a narrative model of discomfort. The family has lost something, a simple trust that might never be regained. Watching their varying degrees of disillusionment “” and possible dissolution as a family “” isn’t likely to engender many laughs, though it does make for some intense and incisive moments that are well-played by the cast. Kuhnke gives an anguished account of a man confronted with his own weaknesses “” but those closest to him, no less.

Cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel provides some exquisite shots of the spectacular scenery and Ola Flottum’s expressive score (heavy on the organ) is also an asset. Force Majeure occasionally becomes bogged down in repetition and talk but never ceases to engage or to provoke thought. (In Swedish with English subtitles)

Force Majeure is scheduled to open Friday at a/perture Cinemas, Winston- Salem.