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Film review: Force Majeure - a family treats its emotional scars

Ruben Ostlund's film about the fallout from a father leaving his wife and children to face an avalanche contains moments of surprise that will shake you to your core

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 11:16pm

Early on in Ruben Ostlund's glacial drama, there is a loud bang and a cascade of snow. A family holidaying in the Swiss Alps bear witness to a too-close-for-comfort avalanche that threatens to engulf the restaurant balcony where they're having lunch. It's a stunning scene — and glimpsed in isolation, you could imagine it's the prologue to a disaster movie.

Yet Ostlund is not interested in such familiar Hollywood tropes; instead he zeroes in on the fallout faced by a family caught up in the chaos. In a moment of madness, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) flees, leaving his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and two children behind. While nobody suffers any physical injury, the emotional scars run deep. The kids are left traumatised, while Ebba is appalled by her husband's cowardice.

Pondering this act, Ostlund takes an almost forensic approach, watching the cracks appear in Tomas and Ebba's marriage against the eerily neutral backdrop of the wood-panelled hotel where they're staying. From the crashes of Vivaldi on the soundtrack to the static shots of clanking machinery in the nearby ski resort, it's an oddly unsettling experience.

Ruben Ostlund on the pressure to be a hero

Two-thirds of the way  through, Ostlund loses his way on the slopes, with the addition of Tomas' friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his girlfriend Fanny (Fanni Metelius) thrown in as moral barometers. The ending is also a little forced. Much better are the moments of surprise, like the avalanche, that leave you shaken to the core.

Force Majeure opens on June 11