Monday, 13 April 2015
Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund's latest opens with a family being unwillingly coerced into posing for a photograph while on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. It's a tableau that's repeated in skewed versions throughout the film, but each time its meaning has changed dramatically and irrevocably. If the first is a little uncomfortable, it's just the tip of an iceberg of awkwardness that's gradually revealed as the story unfolds.
I may be over-egging the dramatic pudding here; the heart of the story is less sinister and more prosaic than you might be imagining, but Östlund tells his tale with such masterly control of atmosphere that your absorption in Tomas and Ebba's world is total and complete. Stunningly framed long, static shots and near-imperceptibly slow tracks and zooms are paired up with a soundtrack which combines the clanks of ski-slope machinery with the stabs of the final movement of Vivaldi's Summer concerto to menacing effect. Ebba is often shot from behind, yet her mood is never less than entirely clear from everything else in and around the frame.
Told with a measured, deliberate rhythm and an unusual formal approach for such an emotionally charged story (the first closeup comes 45 minutes in, during a painfully private moment for Ebba), Force Majeure is as beautiful and laden with deadly power as the avalanche that triggers its events. It's a sharply incisive examination of modern masculinity - or at least one interpretation of it - and the natural instincts of human beings in survival situations, and it does it with ineffable style, unbearable anxiety and perfectly-pitched LOLs. It's a touch overlong, with perhaps one finale too many, but rarely has being stuck in the uncomfortable claustrophobia of a decaying relationship been quite this enjoyable.