Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Force Majeure

Every year around this time, a lot of my so-called "friends" in the Midwest and North perpetuate this hoax called "snow". They post pictures of it on treetops, in their driveways, even make "snowmen".

But I've been on set: I know it's just soap.

Still I can play along, and nobody plays the joke better than the Swedes. And nobody's ever played it better than in Force Majeure.

Force Majeure takes place in a resort deep in the French Alps, where a Swedish family has come on vacation. We can tell, right away, from the awkwardness with which the wife speaks, that the family's in a fragile state, with her feeling neglected. The husband feels it as well, but is better at ignoring it and pretending everything's fine.

As part of making the resort viable, there are periodical explosions in the mountains to control avalanches. And our story really kicks into gear when one of these avalanches heads out of control toward the family. This ensuing events end up stressing the family to the breaking point.

It probably says something about Sweden that this is listed, at least in part, as a comedy.

Well, I laughed.

Some call it black comedy but it's not the wholesome sort of black comedy where people die. Instead, it's people's illusions that die, which is far, far worse. At the same time, there's an oddly upbeat end to it all, as if our illusions could be as easily built as they are destroyed.

Although the director has joked that he was trying to drive up divorce rates in Sweden, this doesn't stand so much as an argument against marriage as it is a testament toward behaving better. At least I took it that way: Significant attention was spent on the kids in the family who are aware of the tenuousness of their parents' relationship and live in fear of them breaking up.

These kinds of dysfunctional family films are not for everyone (I find them very hit and miss) and they tend to have a strained, tense feeling throughout. Force Majeure doubles down on this by introducing an air of contagion to the proceedings, as our main couple's problems spread to their friends and even acquaintances.

And then it triples down by filming this exotic resort in a positively alien manner. Sometimes, it's just a couple people surrounded by pure white. Often there's a fog settled over the whole valley. Just to screw with us, at one point the kids fly a drone in the night sky, and it looks more realistic than the hotel. The whole thing is ridiculously beautiful.

The only actor we recognized was the guy who plays Tormund Giantsbane on "Game of Thrones", as the friend of the family. The actress playing the wife is apparently his "medspillerske" in real life, which is a word I cannot find a translation for. I thought the lead was Peter Sarsgaard. I'm still not convinced they're different people.

But the acting is good, in that Swedish way, which apparently means really low-key right up until it's not.

Anyway, I can see why critics would like it more than audiences, but if you're open to this kind of drama/comedy, it's entertaining and oddly thought provoking.

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