Starring: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Kristofer Hivju
Director: Ruben Östlund
Running Time: 119 mins
Force Majeure (Turist) is a Swedish film about a family who experiences an avalanche whilst on holiday in the French Alps. Although emerging unscathed, the event begins to eat away at their family harmony.
This is a really good film. Despite being a generally very slow-paced and quiet affair, Force Majeure excels in delivering an emotionally captivating story that’s amazingly tense at every moment. Even if its focus is entirely on the conversations that the lead characters have after experiencing the avalanche, this is a riveting and exciting watch, furthered by some hugely effective direction that reinforces a real sense of unease.
That’s where I’d like to start, with Östlund’s direction, which is the most impressive thing to see. Most of the time, he uses very wide shots, and each take is very long. Entire five-minute conversations can play out in just the one frame, but it’s that that often makes them so tense to watch. As emotions are high, keeping the camera very still makes everything feel very rigid and constrained, emulating the frustration of the characters in the film.
Also, the way that Östlund deals with the avalanche scene is fantastic. Although only a couple of minutes long, it’s a mesmerising wide shot of the restaurant where the family is dining, and the dazzling snowy mountains in the background. He brilliantly captures the growing sense of dread when the avalanche fires towards the family, but also makes it a scene that sticks in your mind.
As the events of the avalanche are the trigger for the married couple’s relationship to gradually unwind, it’s really important that you remember exactly what happened, and Östlund manages to make that so by staging such a precise and breathtaking scene.
Now, moving onto the plot, which is also amazing. It’s all about the gradual falling apart of the married couple’s relationship, and that with their family, and the moral dilemma that the characters find themselves in as they clash over different interpretations of what happened during the avalanche.
I won’t give the actual events of the avalanche away, but suffice to say that it creates a very strong divide between the husband and wife, but for me, I wasn’t able to pick a side. It’s such a morally confusing theme, asking what you would really do if put in a life or death situation, and I just couldn’t decide myself, which made for hugely engrossing and captivating watching as I was torn between both sides when the arguments hit their heights.
It’s a hugely effective plot, and the emotion can at times reach devastating depths, furthering the sense of unease that eventually makes everything in the film seem like it’s been infected by some awful disease, which, by the end, was having a huge impact on me.
Finally, the performances. Long takes are notoriously difficult for actors, but there was something really special about Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli’s performances here. Apart from being incredibly realistic, Kuhnke and Kongsli do an excellent job at showing the desperate confusion that the characters are feeling. The arguments don’t cause a direct split, and the two characters always want to get back on good terms, and that’s why their performances work so well, because you believe that this is a married couple who are just going through a desperate time that’s not entirely of their own doing.
Overall, I was really impressed with Force Majeure. It may be slow and quiet, but on the whole, it’s an emotionally affecting and often devastating drama, made even better by some brilliant performances and exceptional directing, and that’s why I’ll give it an 8.4.