Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Ostlund is the Swedish entry for the Oscars in the best foreign film category which won the coveted Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. This movie in theaters now, should not be missed if well-crafted, chilling, family dramas interest you.
As a therapist in Los Angeles, I refrain from writing about clients. With a film though, I feel at liberty to candidly discuss my impressions from a clinical point of view. I bring into the discussion Lewis Perkins, with whom I viewed the movie. As offering thera-tainment to you the reading public, reflecting on films with someone else is so much more pleasurable than doing it alone. This review is not intended to replace therapy or be construed as advice.
The purpose, perhaps, is to aid you in thinking about your own situation by looking into the cinematic mirror. If what you see, resonates, tune in and do the hard work of inner listening. That said, f you or a loved one is suicidal don't second guess or delay in taking action by reaching out to a mental health professional.
In Force Majeure an enviable married Swedish couple with two children is on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. The lighting and color palette of this film is matte and muted, which contributes to its foreboding mood. Everything is going reasonably well, yet subtly not so.
The tense atmosphere of restraint is punctuated by harrowing outbursts. The husband is intermittently glued to his smart phone as are the girl about 10 and a boy about 7, to their entertainment devices. Though she complains, the mother is ineffectual in combating these tendencies. You can feel resentments growing.
The family skis together at times and the adults make sure to ski alone or with their friends. Mother takes the kids to the pool, but not once do they go as a family; nor does the couple ski alone with each other, like a romantic couple might demand.
The mother initiates talking about personal issues after she's been drinking alcohol with other adults as another friend, film critic, Ryan Lattanzio noted in a conversation we had.
The irony is this vacation was meant to make time for each other. The idea is to repair and rekindle, to go deeper than the daily checking in and re-invigorate the relationships. What better way than to spend time in nature, and warm up inside, especially if it is cold outside.
Here's an opportunity to break from the demands of daily life. And yet, they do not once cozy up in front of a fire, chat, listen to music and dance or play a game together. Instead, the children busy themselves in the icy blue glow at the alter of their electronic baby sitters. These people become their own worst enemies, victims of success and we mourn for them.
Sober, spontaneous laughs come in the bathroom, when the four are brushing their teeth in front of a mirror. Close proximity between the couple fails to translate into intimacy. There is familiarity displayed as the couple urinates in each other's presence. But the wife turns from the husband's nakedness as they dress, and at other times when he bids for her attention.
From the outside looking in, this family has it all: youth, looks, athleticism, personality, money, health and strangely, a sexless marriage. This couple clearly needs to make more time for each other, but they don't. The strain created by them turning away from each other is palpable. We suspect he's having an affair, or vulnerable to one and flirting with the idea.
Simply put, the relationship is endangered because it is not a priority. Most of their couple time is moody, often brought on by drinking too much alcohol, or spent with their poly-amorous friends and acquaintances they meet at the hotel.
Everyone is alone in their pain. No one really knows how to handle it. The children I like to say, are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine absorbing and overwhelmed by their parent's growing marital distress. These sensitive siblings remind of Loretta Lux's portraits of unhappy children.
The son mopes a lot, even on the exciting gondola, and weeps in shadows. The daughter consoles him. There is a role-reversal as she firmly calls to her mother for a reuniting, touching and tearful family hug, an avalanche on the living room rug. The children call the question, by articulating the fear and blurting out what is obvious. Can this couple headed for a divorce turn it around to a better place?
So, even as they're enjoying lunch on the veranda something is off, not quite right. During the experience cannon-fire punctuates the peace of a sunny afternoon to trigger mini-avalanches, minimizing the possibility of a lethal one for a pleasant afternoon of skiing.
Extraordinary steps to groom and maintain the slopes to keep skiiers safe are no joke. Much of the time the family feels entombed in a series of tube-like alimentary canals of conveyance devices and delivery systems for getting up and down the mountains. This also symbolizes the potential for renewal and rebirth.
The groaning and clanking sounds of the ski lifts reminds us of a birthing process and the tremendous effort that must be taken in the potentially dangerous mountains to enjoy them. Not one to give away the best plot points, but only to entice you to see this film, Ostlund imposes terror, piercing the veneer, reminding us that flirting with disaster has real consequences.
The trusting traditional wife devoted to monogamy and family befriends a vampish provocative woman indulging herself with a handsome man-toy at the resort. This brazen woman is discomforting, yet she appears to be the most honest and least hypocritical or stressed character. Contrast this with the husband's friend whose new younger girlfriend is worried he will leave her like his first wife.
Life is going along rather comfortably but simultaneously cooling precipitously from a place deep inside this family. The warmth and the good will between them is tested. Measures such as couple's counseling would be called for as soon as they safely return home, which is also called into question on the final rides down the mountain.
Will the lovers at the heart of this story look for and find each other again to renew their bond or will they continue their downward spiral and die romantically? Is the attainment of connubial bliss an ideal we seek and perhaps only intermittently achieve? Torn to satisfy our conflicting disparate goals, can we expect more of each other? Showing up for the demands of your life is daily, no matter where you are as Perkins noted.
Periods of reflection that lead to breaking bad habits are challenging and yet necessary for relationships to thrive. As the proverb goes: "Wherever you go, there you will be." This film has been touted by several critics as a dark comedy. Such is the problem that haunts the viewer and is central to enjoying and understanding this film.