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Force Majeure offers an avalanche of issues

Rating: ***



DIRECTED BY Ruben Östlund
STARS Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli

Johannes Bah Kuhnke (second from left) and Lisa Loven Kongsli in Force Majeure (Photo: Magnolia)
  • Johannes Bah Kuhnke (second from left) and Lisa Loven Kongsli in Force Majeure (Photo: Magnolia)

Say this about Force Majeure: No one will be leaving the theater without plenty of food for thought and topics for conversation.

Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund's film centers on a happy family and the conflicts that arise while dad Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), mom Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two small children are vacationing at a fancy ski resort in the French Alps. When it looks like an avalanche is about to wipe out all the tourists enjoying lunch outside on the restaurant balcony, Tomas bolts for safety, leaving behind his wife and kids. It's a false alarm, and everyone goes back to their lunches, but for Tomas and Ebba, the damage has been done. Ebba is eaten away by her husband's selfishness and cowardice, more so since she protectively huddled with her children during the moment of crisis; for his part, Tomas won't even admit to running away, claiming that Ebba's memories of the event are unclear. The inner turmoil experienced by both adults poisons the rest of their vacation, even after they're able to air their grievances to their friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his young girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius).

Reading the various opinions on Force Majeure is almost as entertaining as watching the actual movie. Some view it as a stone-cold drama while others perceive it to be a social satire. Some peg it as a film that's critical of the notion of the nuclear family while others believe it to be a movie that ultimately embraces the family unit and its ability to forgive and move on. Defensive sorts see it as an anti-male movie that lambasts masculinity and turns men into wimpy eunuchs (because Europe, one Internet troll hilariously suggested), while equally deluded types gleefully embrace it as anti-feminist and an exposé of what happens when women complain too much about their men.

Since seeing it back in December, I've held firm with my view that it's a darkly humorous piece that doesn't bash any one sex (after all, their friend Mats reveals himself to be quite the leader in the late going) but instead examines how it's probably impossible for anyone to ever fully understand another human being, even one who's bonded in sickness and in health. The underpinnings of the "women and children first" decree certainly come into play, but Tomas' failing ultimately isn't as a man but as a human being, and watching both Ebba and Tomas himself come to terms with his actions provides for some powerful moments. It's just a shame that Östlund doesn't quite know how to end the film. The final set-piece is forced and unconvincing, and the straw man actions of Ebba in particular bury a strong movie underneath a last-minute layer of distaff disappointment.

Force Majeure is being presented locally by the Charlotte Film Society, which will screen the film at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at Theatre Charlotte, 501 Queens Rd. (go to for more details). If you end up missing it yet still have a craving for a movie featuring characters speaking in a foreign tongue, there are a couple of alternative options. You can check out the solid Russian import Leviathan, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film that just opened at Park Terrace. Or you can catch the fantasy flop Seventh Son and spend the running time trying to decipher Jeff Bridges' unintelligible mutterings without the aid of subtitles.

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