Force Majeure

Movie Information

The Story: Marital drama about what happens in the wake of a threat where the husband shows himself to be less than his wife assumed. The Lowdown: The critics are mostly agreed that this Swedish drama about marital discord and patriarchal dysfunction is great stuff — Sweden has chosen it as its Oscar entry. Maybe so, but I found it a lot less than great.
Genre: Drama with Claims of Dark Comedy
Director: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanny Metelius
Rated: R



I’m not going to spend a lot of time on Force Majeure, a highly-regarded Swedish movie from director Ruben Östlund, with whom I’m unfamiliar. The problem is that the bulk of the critics — not to mention the folks who give out awards at Cannes — are gaga over it. That’s fine, but damned if I get the appeal. I am told that it’s a penetrating “dark comedy” with moments of rib-tickling mirth. In between fantasizing that a sour-looking hotel housekeeper would go berserk and murder everybody, I kept waiting for this comedy — dark or otherwise — to materialize. It never did. I know humor is very subjective, but I can usually identify what I’m at least supposed to be convulsed by. Not so here. The major emotion I experienced was boredom while waiting for something — anything — to happen. I can only conclude that I am just not on the right wavelength for Force Majeure. But it’s as well to remember that mine is not the majority view.




Here’s the pitch — an upper-middle-class family is vacationing in the French Alps at a posh hotel. All is well — or at least not openly hostile — until one day at lunch when a controlled avalanche gets a little out of hand and appears to be genuinely threatening the diners on the terrace. It is during this episode where everything changes because the husband, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), runs away from the table rather than protect wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and the kids (Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren). As it turns out, there was no real peril and things return to normal — or so it seems. The problem is that Tomas’ behavior has shaken her faith in him. The bulk of the rest of the film is essentially a marital drama — with occasional interested parties weighing in — examining Tomas’ behavior and whether or not he’ll own up to it. And then it repeats this story several times — in case we don’t get it — for what feels like an eternity. That’s pretty much it — and if that appeals to you, so may the movie as it moves along to a fairly inconclusive conclusion that I suspect is supposed to be all kinds of profound.




Now, the truth is I cannot fault the film on technical grounds. Östlund has crafted a good looking movie, if not an exceptionally adventurous one. The images are rock steady, the exposure is dead-on, etc. — you know, things that 50 years ago you wouldn’t have commented on because they were a given. The only places where Östlund evidences anything that could be called more than a workmanlike style are when the movie is in the snow, most notably the film’s last such scene. But as I noted at the onset, I am by no means in the mainstream of criticism on this one. Rated R for some language and brief nudity.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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10 thoughts on “Force Majeure

  1. Xanadon't

    Tomas’ entire breakdown– regardless whether we’re supposed to read it as sincere or not — culminating in the family group hug on the floor is surely Razzie material.

  2. Me

    I just finished this and it I would put it near the top of the films I saw from last year. I didn’t really see what everybody is finding funny about it, sure the hotel guy is funny and the scene that Xanadont mentioned is kind of funny until it cuts inside and you see the kids, and that hug was kind of touching.

    • Ken Hanke

      It was at the top of my list. Unfortunately, that was my Worst of list.

    • Ken Hanke

      I’ve never even heard of The Loneliest Planet. It’s enough to keep up with the films I have to see without chasing down every obscure title that panics the few.

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        They are similar in many regards. The Loneliest Planet is slightly less annoying and the build-up to “the event” is longer, but the aftermath is just as dull and pretentious…and that’s even with Gael Garcia Bernal’s involvement! At least no one has accused it of being funny.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Good call. It’s nice to look at, but technically so is Manure.

          • Ken Hanke

            Well, I’d call Forced Manure technically proficient, but I can’t say I found it exactly nice looking.

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