In the early scenes of the Swedish drama “Force Majeure,” we’re introduced to what looks like a perfect family: father Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), kids Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren); all of them attractive and healthy and charming, laughing together as they pose for pictures on a posh ski vacation in the French Alps. And then, about 12 minutes into the movie, something happens: At an outdoor restaurant, a sudden avalanche on the ski slope gains size and speed as it rolls toward the panicked diners, enveloping them — and the screen — in white. When the picture clears, all seems OK — except for the fact that a terrified Ebba pulled her children toward her to protect them, while Tomas grabbed his camera and phone and ran away.
The rest of the movie — which is to say, most of it — deals with the aftermath of this event; how the dynamic between Tomas and Ebba changes, quietly but definitively, as the children warily look on. Writer/director Ruben Östlund lets things unfold slowly; his camera watches as Tomas and Ebba tell the story to friends, and lingers on the snow — sparkling like diamond sand — and the mountains, which now seem to have their own life, ominously vibrating. (Marriage, here, is like that mountain after an avalanche; left disturbed by unexpected forces.) Ultimately, “Force Majeure” becomes a thoughtful examination, through Tomas and Ebba, of the person who lives inside each of us, emerging only in the most unguarded moments — and not always a person we want to acknowledge. The truth is, notes a character, “when you are afraid to die and reality is staring at us in the face, very few of us are heroic.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org