Sunday, December 7, 2014

Force Majeure (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Force Majeure

As a director Ruben Östlund is not one to pull away from disturbing themes. His previous film "Play" (2011) is about a group of black kids who rob a group of white kids for a lark. The film ignited a heated racial controversy among both critics and audiences.

In the company of Lars von Trier and the Austrian born Michael Haneke, Östlund handles painful drama and invariably pushes our moral buttons without any concession or apology.

And he doesn't relent here.

In "Force Majeure" we have a Swedish middle class family on a ski vacation. From the get go, the children are crabby and irritated and the parents are taciturn and self absorbed, paying more attention to their phones.

To break the routine the family goes to a ski-side resort lunch. High peaks tower above them like huge snowy beards left from Santa's sabbatical. The view is breathtaking. They chatter in holiday bliss. Suddenly, without warning there is an explosion. Fireworks perhaps. No, it is a controlled avalanche says the father, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) but the explosion roars closer and the snow tumbles onward. Then with a sense of irrational horror and disbelief, everything goes white. The outside restaurant shrieks in terror.

This  one scene is heart-stoppingly terrible and beautiful at once. In impact and peril,  this passage recalls something of Hitchcock's "The Birds" or "North by Northwest" given its initial start of black humor only to end in a sudden punch of incomprehension and anxiety. After several minutes, the turmoil settles, visibility is restored. But the mother Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) realizes that Tomas took off and ran without a word during the chaos.

Ebba keeps this to herself at first, but a hidden resentment builds.

The couple grows gradually distant from one another as do the children: the grabby Harry (Vincent Wettergren) and the willful Vera (Clara Wettergren).

The film is masterful in illustrating a family under siege with each other. The resort dappled in an ethereal nocturnal navy blue light, seems drawn from a satanic Tin-Tin serial. The towering snowy mountains while at first taken from the palate of the warm and  sugary Kinkade, abruptly transform into a series of jagged points from a hostile planet, claustrophobic and strange.

This is a family displaced.

Even the acquaintances are full of criticism, petty reactions and suspicion. Room 413 has a Kubrickian malevolence reminiscent of  "The Shining".

Although the theme of a family breaking apart is nothing new by any stretch, Östlund gives wonderful details that sting like lashes from a whip, all the more potent in genius for their short impact. Consider, the drone hitting a visitor in the stomach during a tense moral debate or a soporific bus driver who drives with an oddly lethal and careless intent  through a steep mountain, not to mention a creepy housekeeper hovering with a vacant, fixed stare of complete disinterest.

Even those that appear the most mature and rational at first, including the measured and pragmatic Mats (Kristofer Hivju) becomes bestial and immature.

Brace yourself. In watching "Force Majuere" nature itself is neutral in mortal affairs and  transgressive hearts rule the day.

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