Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Force Majeure

I had suspected that this Swedish film would have made my top ten list if I had seen it in time, and it certainly would have. The slow but potent drama draws us into the life of a Swedish family (husband, wife and two young children) who face a near avalanche. But as the title indicates (a French phrase meaning "superior force" or "unexpected event"), the crisis strikes even if the avalanche doesn't. The response of the father under pressure exposes a seam of human weakness for which they are not prepared.

The film uses several effects to suggest an ominous threat, but undisclosed fears may be the biggest enemy. Conversations eventually lead deeper into unexplored and uncomfortable territory. Having just had a conversation with someone on this theme, I was aware that one dynamic going on was a social search for how to respond to and cope with human weakness when spiritual understandings have been forgotten or ignored. Could they have helped?

This is the kind of movie that one could speculate on, argue about, and continue interpreting for a long time. The movie may be slow-paced but there is a lot going on. The film begins with a clear one-sidedness to the conflict, which creates a refreshing change from the "who is right?" perceptual tension, but that one-sidedness certainly drifts toward an appropriate complexity and balance as the film progresses.

There is an oddly comic tone that erupts here and there that actually creates a completely different layer of subtext, making you question the seriousness of all the relational tension or perhaps giving the viewer a choice of staying a step removed if one wishes. Is the emotional distance that this creates helpful or unhelpful? Are we meant to empathize with this family or question where they have ended up? (I should balance my positivity by saying that there were also a few strange editing decisions that seemed like clear mistakes - at least, hard to understand.)

The final scene worked well for me, and was perhaps the most emotional part because I feel like I have been in positions similar to the one depicted. Sadly, I can't say more without disclosing too much, but if you like realistic psychological drama, artfully depicted, this one is for you. ***+ and a mug held high.


  1. Another amazing coincidence: I just got it in the mail. I plan to watch it in the next few days and will add my thoughts then.

  2. Watched it yesterday. I agree with everything you wrote. This is a beautiful, slow thoughtful film with lots to talk about. I liked the ending but have a number of questions about the what and the why of it. A solid ***+ from me as well. Two mugs held high.

  3. [Spoiler Alert!] - There were several things about the ending that were significant to me: 1) the wife just ran off the bus without the kids, 2) he was calm and orderly and gathered the kids, 3) the friend who treated things lightly stayed on the bus, 4) confessing to smoking seemed a sign of living more honestly, 5) the final feeling evoked by everyone walking down together - unsure about what they had just chosen, unclear about what was ahead, but weak people walking together. All of those things were happening in the context of having my own memories of being on buses driving on switchbacks (not so much driven poorly as, perhaps, unwisely for the size of bus) and another couple of times with drivers falling asleep.