Force Majeure

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What a great premise for a movie. Especially since the last movie I saw about an unstable marriage, let me down by going over the top (I’m talking about you, Gone Girl).

A family is on a skiing vacation in the French Alps. It’s shot beautifully. You might not find better snow/ski scenes in a film that doesn’t have the name “Warren Miller” attached.

We see cannons blasting away and creating controlled avalanches, and on a beautiful deck eating lunch, one of these causes an avalanche to come right up to the tables. Tomas runs for the hills. His wife stays with the two kids (one of whom is yelling for his dad). He saunters back to the table as if nothing happened. His wife Ebba is a bit upset, but in one of the many fine touches the film has, she’s silent about it. It was refreshing to see the passive-aggressive nature of her personality.

This movie won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year. Critics that like to pass themselves off as intellectualsare singing its praises. Here’s the problem. You could have an interesting movie with various couples discussing this act of cowardice. I enjoyed watching couples sit around a living room arguing in Roman Polasnki’s Carnage.  Yet at two hours, and with its deliberate pacing, doesn’t really work. Heck, Seinfeld did an episode on this very topic. George Costanza runs out of a classroom when there’s a fire, knocking over a lady and children that are also fleeing. They wrapped that up in 23 minutes, and it had a lot more laughs (many are pegging this a dark comedy).

The first question you ask yourself is if the husband doing this would really be a deal breaker. If he’s a great husband on all other counts (which he seemed to be), it’s this woman that comes across as the jerk. After all, she’s the one that, instead of just talking about it with him alone (which they do), she brings it up to every person they meet. One time she even interrupts a dinner guest that’s in the middle of telling her own story. She also seems oblivious to the pain it’s causing the young children, which start to fear the parents may divorce.

One interesting conversation takes place when family friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his young girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius) are in bed. They talk about the couple fighting, and she gives him crap for not taking care of his own kids. He explains that he seems them often and his ex has custody.

I’ve had that same conversation with two girlfriends. These are the types of things that can make movies enjoyable. The problem is that here it feels manufacturing, and they just don’t come across as authentic. One scene involves a woman explaining to Ebba how she has an open marriage.  That’s a conversation we’ve heard many times in better films.

There were also a few scenes that were utterly ridiculous. One of those is a sort of rave, with shirtless guys dancing. Another has a cute, drunk girl flirt with Tomas. Oh, there’s also a lot of scenes showing the couple brushing their teeth.

The avalanche of snow sure created an avalanche of emotions. It’s just unfortunate the movie didn’t explore these themes better. Two hours to get to a conclusion (in which some would argue Tomas was vindicated), just isn’t very entertaining.

Since it’s getting raved reviews and will be an Oscar contender (not to mention making many critics “Top 10” lists), if you like to catch the movies getting buzz, you should check this out. It’s at the Reading Gaslamp downtown. It’s yet another time that theatre is able to grab one of the foreign films you can’t see anywhere else.

This gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.