Thursday, January 8, 2015

"FORCE MAJUERE" - 2014, directed by Ruben Östlund

From the most simple of precepts comes a dark, and darkly funny, exploration of male emasculation in our modern, purportedly gender-equitable age. It goes like this: a catalog-perfect Swedish family of 4 – pretty mom, handsome dad, two young blonde children – go a luxe ski holiday at a posh resort somewhere unnamed within the French alps. Early in the film, while sitting on a balcony overlooking the slopes while they’re about to lunch, the family and everyone surrounding them witness a controlled, explosion-driven avalanche about to head toward them. Initially they marvel at it before realizing that it’s about to swamp them all, and with that, husband Tomas (painfully played in all his emasculatory glory by Johannes Kuhnke) grabs his iPhone and gloves in sheer terror, and sprints away – leaving his wife and two kids to fend for themselves. Seconds later, disaster averted, people begin returning to their tables, and among them is Tomas. He’s unaware that he’s just caused a fissure in his family that will take the rest of the film to play out.
Now, "FORCE MAJUERE" can be read in multiple ways. It’s an exploration of marital communication, sure, but more than that, it sets up a good post-film think about marital roles, particularly those related to gender. Is it the man that’s supposed to be heroic? Or the woman – who, it could be said, was the heroic one in their instant of panic? A comic foil is introduced in the form of Tomas’ friend Mats, who arrives with his 20-year-old girlfriend and who lends the film much of its emasculatory tone in his brief moments of trying to cope both with Tomas’ struggles with guilt, as well as with his own issues. Some great stereotype reversals take place here as well; it’s Tomas that hysterically cries in public about his marital problems, not his wife Ebba; it’sMats that needs to stay up and “sort through his issues” late at night with his girlfriend, while she begs him to please stop seeking instant therapy and go to sleep. There’s also some jarringly disturbing sound production in this one, in which electric toothbrushes and a remote-controlled flying spaceship take central roles in deepening the tension and drama. 
Östlund directs this and coaxes raw dialogue out of his characters in a very sparse, painful and Scandinavian way, and if it’s too tempting to say “Bergman-esque” - well, I apologize, because it very much is. Without giving away too much in the way of subsequent plot, I will say that the film could have satisfactorily ended in any number of places in its last 30 minutes, but instead flips the narrative in its final scenes a bit so that perhaps it’s less about the cowardice of males, per se, and more about the selfishness of humanity in general when confronted with fight-or-flight situations. Was very pleased to hash this one out in my head afterward and it’s absolutely set to be one of the top films this year.