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.