Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Force Majeure" examines the responsibilities of fatherhood and then plain manhood in a spectacular vacation setting

Force Majeure” (alternate title “Turist”), directed by Ruben Ostlund, is a most original dramedy. In Swedish, set at a ski resort in the French Alps, filmed in both France and Italy, with a spectacular, big screen look.  It is funny and suspenseful, and has an edgy atmosphere that you almost expect in mystery.  But the major is not simply family responsibility, for one’s wife and kids once one has chosen to have them, but male responsibility in a broader sense.

Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two kids seem like the idea family, very much together as they pose arm-in-arm for a photographer compressing them in the movie's opening shot, still sharing “the family bed” when in their chalet room.  The camera gives some hints as to his issues with masculinity and his wife’s acceptance; he is rather smooth. Twenty minutes into the film, the family is having lunch in an outdoor café at the foot of one of the slopes.  The film has given some foreshadowing with small blasts, apparently intended to create small avalanches to break up unstable snow.  Suddenly, an avalanche hits the café.  There is a brief whiteout, but no real damage, and soon the air clears, just leaving a mess for the restaurant.  In the confusion, Tomas seems to run away without picking up his kids.  Actually, I didn’t see it at first, but the married couple next to me at the theater said they did.  If you have kids, you notice things like that.

Soon Ebba is needling Tomas about his apparent cowardice.  The marriage is threatened, and the kids pick up on it, starting to pout, and the boy even blurts out when entering a gondola that he fears they will divorce.
Other stuff happens.  There are some scenes with a drone masking as a UFO (even indoors).  Ebba talks to another couple, who have an “open marriage”, and wonders how it can work.  They get together with another young couple for some improvised therapy.  A gay man, (and in fact “the cigarette smoking man” as from X-Files”) stares at the couple outside the door from the atrium, when Tomas is in his skivvies.
Eventually Tomas breaks down emotionally, and has a wailing and sobbing session with Ebba.  Then, his courage will be tested twice before the end of the film.  He has a chance at redemption.

The last scene, with the bus on a mountain road and a new incompetent driver, tests the idea of “women and children first”, for everyone, and that is a point.

Back in 1971, when I was going through my period of attempted heterosexual dating, there were expectations.  I paid the checks.  I was supposed to walk on the street side (after we went to see “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” – an odd choice for a “straight” date).  What if something had happened ans some emergency had occurred?  Could I have protected her?  What about when I was substitute teaching?  What if there had been a shooter or some serious physical threat?  Could I have defended or protected the kids? 
I grew up in a world where this was expected of young males before they married and had kids.  Essentially, it was expected of everyone.  Marriage is a result, not a cause, of chivalry, in this environ.

The official site is here (Magnolia).  The music score uses “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Seasons” effectively.  The credits didn’t mention Dolby, but the stereo location was good.  I saw this in a smaller auditorium at the AMC Shirlington, on a 35 MM print (but 2.35:1).  The film probably would benefit from digital prints and showing.  The film shows a lot of the details of skiing, like how rope tows work.  

Pictures are mine;  last is Mt. Washington, NH, 2011, others from a train set.  

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