Glasgow Film Festival: Ruben Östlund's masterful dramedy foregrounds weakness
A family skiing holiday turns rivetingly sour in Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund's impeccably executed, discomforting dramedy, which holds humanity under an unflattering, unflinching microscope. It benefits from a simple but terrifically fruitful premise: when confronted with what he believes to be a life-threatening avalanche a husband abandons his family, including his two young children, pausing only to pick up his gloves and iPhone. When all is revealed to be well, the fallout from his actions brings his marriage to its knees.
Set over five days in an idyllic resort in the French Alps, it follows a picture-perfect Swedish family as they implode following the craven behaviour of patriarch Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke). His wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) can't shake the implications of his hasty departure and becomes consumed with resentment, which she bitterly voices in their interactions with others, leading to exquisitely uncomfortable, frequently fascinating discussions, alongside ample humiliation for the in-denial Tomas.
Their dissatisfaction poisons the relationship of another holidaying couple, Mats and Fanni (Kristofer Hivju from Game of Thrones, and Fanni Metelius). Although there's a timeless quality to the actions and reactions, Force Majeure also boasts a specifically modern angle, not least as the debacle has been caught on a phone camera.
Kongsli is captivating as a woman haunted by her husband's instinct to save only his own skin, as is Kuhnke as a man forced to confront his cowardice, who becomes increasingly and comically pathetic as his failings come pouring out. Östlund's fourth narrative feature is unhurried and insightful, exploring the disintegrating familial relations with impressive poise, credibility and wit, confronting us with static compositions, and impishly immersing us in the awkwardness. A penetrating study of human weakness, Force Majeure shows us things about these characters, and by extension ourselves, that we might not want to see.
Screening on Sun 1 Mar as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. Selected release from Fri 10 Apr.