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Force Majeure - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Force Majeure
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B

Anyone with a particular interest in great cinematography is bound to enjoy watching Force Majeure, which is beautifully shot at a ski resort in the French Alps. Whether average movie-goers will care for it is far less certain.

There's nothing particularly obtuse, thankfully, about this film. It just really takes its time, sometimes tediously so. Shot after shot lingers on far longer than necessary, giving us plenty of time to take in some perfectly framed portraits of snowy mountain landscapes (one stunning birds-eye shot comes to mind, not revealing the angle of what we're looking at until a character walks into frame). But in many of said shots, nothing of consequence is happening, nothing particularly moving the story forward. This turns what could have been a tightly polished 90-minute movie into a rather slow 118-minute film.

This may still work for some; it certainly has for many critics, a majority of whom are in love with this movie. Critical consensus doesn't always align with audience opinion, though, and it's worth noting that this movie has not yet grossed even one million dollars. That's not to say Force Majeure is bad; it just clearly isn't for everyone.

It has a compelling enough concept: A Swedish family of four goes on a ski vacation, and their contented relationships are tested by a controlled avalanche. The family is sitting at a restaurant with outdoor seating and a stunning view of the mountains, and the avalanche, though known to be controlled, gets so close to them that everyone panics as they are enveloped in white smoke. The father, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), after attempting to reassure his family, then grabs his phone and runs away from the table, leaving them behind.

What follows is a story about a family trying to come to terms with what kind of man they think Tomas has revealed himself to be. His wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), can't handle Tomas's refusal to admit to his behavior: "I don't share that interpretation of events," he says. Ebba gets so obsessed about it that she brings it up, twice, with other friends, making things terribly awkward for everybody. There's a lot of very awkward scenes in this movie.

Tomas, for his part, is headed toward a mental breakdown because he can't live with himself and his behavior. Friends attempt to rationalize it, saying no one can know how they will react, or necessarily even know what they are doing, when survival mode kicks in. This is true. But discussions arise about hypotheticals, what kind of person people think of themselves as, and how they think they would react in the same situation. It creates tensions among other couples, just discussing it.

Many of these scenes are fairly intense and very well performed; it veers Force Majeure -- French for greater force (the original title was actually Turist) -- into intermittently riveting drama.

But, things go overboard occasionally. One scene in which a character is crying uncontrollably goes on so long that it goes beyond potential-tearjerker to unintentional comic exaggeration. And by the end, the story takes a turn that somewhat nullifies the dramatic effect, with both Tomas and Ebba behaving oddly. It feels like writer-director Ruben Östlund means for this to be a redemption of sorts for them, and perhaps to Swedish audiences it is, but for us, it just comes across as silly and bemusing.

Even with the glacial pacing, Force Majeure has its strengths, barely managing not to be boring. But a movie like this needs a greater payoff than the one it offers. At least it's beautiful to look at, and that's something.

The catalyzing event in FORCE MAJEUERE.

Overall: B
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