Last week we fired up the red button on our remote – yes, our TV actually has a dedicated Netflix button – and came across a recent Swedish movie by Ruben Östlund called Force Majeure (or Turist in the original language). It tells the story of the perfect modern family. Mother Ebba, father Tomas, two young children, boy girl, Harry and Vera. They ooze professional and personal success. Wealthy, good looking. Loving glances between the couple, children energetic and mostly well-behaved. We find them on a winter ski-break in the French alps, which it appears is not their first time, as they expertly navigate the slopes. The set-up is smooth and subtle. These are people who have it made, and seem perfectly contended in their lives. What would it take to break the equilibrium?
After a morning’s skiing, the family sits down at a restaurant terrace overlooking the valley. Controlled explosions boom through the valley and set off an avalanche. The restaurant goers turn to the spectacle, whip out their cell phones and start filming. So does our handsome family. The snow rolls down the mountain side, overwhelms the valley and rises over the terrace. Panic breaks out. Ebba reaches for the children. Tomas, phone in hand, turns and runs away. Within seconds the panic subsides, the avalanche stopped in time after all, but the damage is done.
At first they try to ignore what happened, in particular Tomas pretending as if nothing out of the ordinary took place. Ebba on the other hand can’t help but return to that moment where her husband ran off leaving her alone with the kids. It’s like a scab on their marriage that she can’t help but poke at. Over the following days, they meet up with friends, they fight, they argue, they try to come to terms with what each of them did.
The movie sketches this very simple situation, one that could happen to any of us, and then lets the pieces fall where they may. The cinematography by Fredrik Wenzel throws the human comedy into sharp relief against the purity of the mountains, drawing crisp tableaus of pristine snowscapes, and contrasting them with the impersonal, lonely hallways of the ski resort. You can’t help but wonder how you yourself would react in a similar situation. Would you run? Would you stay? Would you be able to live with what you or your partner’s instincts choose?
Force Majeure – 2014, Sweden – 2h 0m – by Ruben Östlund
These movies are available on the US version of Netflix at the time the post was written. As the catalogue changes often, and is not the same in each country, it might not be available where/when you are.