The Swedish film Force Majeure (2014) is a long, difficult watch, but it rewards the effort, provided you’re interested in stunning scenery, awkward cinéma vérité stylings, and painfully insightful gender subtexts. (How’s that for a soft sell?)
In the French Alps, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) take their two young children on a posh holiday to a ski resort. It’s a relaxing, indulgent time for the family until the unexpected occurs: a controlled avalanche goes awry, nearly engulfing them. Ebba moves instinctively to protect the children, but Tomas, in a moment of panic, races to save himself. When the snow settles, no harm is done but everything is utterly changed, as Tomas’ momentary knee-jerk cowardice drives a wedge between the husband and wife, and sends Tomas spiraling toward an emotional breakdown.
Force Majeure is the kind of patient, slow-building movie that’s sure to bore some viewers while mesmerizing others. I fell into the latter camp, lured by its breathtaking cinematography, realistic performances, and the way its simple scenes build a complex picture. At first, it comes across like a painstaking, bludgeoningly honest character study, but eventually reveals itself to be a scathing indictment of traditional gender roles, especially conventional male self-image. Heroic, strong, knowledgeable, in-charge—Force Majeure lays bare the weakness and hypersensitivity lurking underneath this posturing male façade. I’ve seen this film billed as biting comedy, but it didn’t remotely tickle my funny bone; it’s a nuanced, penetrating monument to the enduring toxicity of modern male behavior. Hard to stomach, but very well done.