Force Majeure (or Turist) is the new film from Ruben Ostlund and it is very much the kind of film that should cause all sorts of conversations and arguments on the way home. Not just about which character was in the right, but also that old favourite, “What would you do?” But while all of that might mark it as an interesting and rather fun film to watch, is there something darker and less constructive about the film?
Some of the fun of the film is in not quite knowing where it might initially go, though if we are intending to go to see it then you probably already have some idea. A Swedish family are on a skiing holiday on the Swiss Alps. At lunch, however, what seems to be a controlled avalanche, as it gets closer, starts to look dangerous. Self-appointed head of the family Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) starts to panic and he flees the table, leaving his wife and children behind. They all survive unharmed – the avalanche was never technically out of control – and the rest of the film is about how the family attempts to confront and overcome the shattering experience of seeing Tomas run away from them.
The film sounds fun in a nasty, cynical kind of way – and the trailer and the shrill, mocking use of Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 2 bares this impression out. It is also disturbing by implication since the subject of the film is a nasty, uncompromising one – particularly when one hears of the stories that inspired Ostlund to pursue this idea. As it is then it acts as a valuable reminder that humans are not too far from the animals whose own selfishness can shock us so much. It is a well-constructed, well-made and very precise, discomforting examination of a vulnerable side of humanity that is rarely addressed, as well as being a critique of some of the self-created myths that sustain our lives, families and marriages. It can also be very funny.
That said, the film has a great subject (indeed, the subject is so good that little really happens in the film beyond expanding and exploring this central concept) and it really knows it. There is something slightly smug about the film, as if it is picking out little imperfections in all of us whilst remaining immune from criticism itself. The film is made up of long takes and steady frames (it is European arthouse so what other aesthetic could it have?), shots that linger over the mundanity of its character’s lives in a rather cold and analytical fashion. Force Majeure is a film about a very human animal trait and yet it does not seem to have much humanity in it. It is a gleefully cruel and nasty film, though it is unclear why it needs to be so cruel and so nasty.
A well-paced, involving, thought-provoking film but one marred slightly by a cynical and negative view of humanity. Such a view is hardly unwarranted, but there are hardly any positives in the film, or even valuable criticisms – the film seems content to point out that we are all animalistic and that we should stop pretending that we are not, and goes little further – as if the best way to deal with all of the manmade problems in the world is merely to accept their inevitability. It has been said that all great art should engage critically but constructively with the human experience, offering its audiences new experiences and new perspectives with which to engage with the world and its people. A film like Force Majeure is all about negation, and while it is indeed fun and interesting, it is nonetheless a film that leaves an unpleasant taste – and not entirely for the right reasons.