Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund, 2014)
Force Majeure screens on Friday, October 10 and Sunday, October 12. More information can be found at the Chicago International Film Festival's website here.
The similarities between Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet and Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure are, in essence, tied down to a single action. But whereas Loktev’s film was a far more contemplative and deliberate study on human behavior and perceived gender roles, Force Majeure is more humorously playful in design. Both films are balancing acts, though it is in Force Majeure where the dynamic between the sexes reaches its most combustible. What makes Ostlund’s effort so considerable is his acknowledgement of the ridiculous lobbying and politicking that goes on during a relationship - and how any given action can possess reverberating consequences.
Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) take their son and daughter to a French ski resort. The vacation is as idyllic as it comes, offering a picturesque visage of harmony and tranquility. As part of regular slope maintenance, avalanche blasting occurs in hopes of mitigating any potential harm to visitors traversing the slopes. Ostlund is diligent in observing these sequences, careful to show the audience the methodical ritual that goes on in maintaining the stunning resort. Settling in the resort’s restaurant, overlooking the slopes, Tomas, Ebba and their children witness an avalanche blasting - but something appears to go seriously wrong.
From here, the picture pivots around Tomas and Ebba’s reaction to this avalanche blasting, with much of their back and forth being underscored by what they perceive to be their roles to the family. Other couples are introduced throughout the duration of the picture as a means of helping the despondent couple understand each other’s actions - though these couples end up finding themselves struggling to reconcile their own feelings about the situation, essentially spawning its own set of toxic arguments among couples disputing hypotheticals.
What it all comes down to is a series of exchanges where men assert their stubborn masculinity and women attempt to deconstruct it. It makes for riveting and tense scenes where couples attack or retreat based on the strength of their arguments. The interplay functions in conjunction with the aforementioned rituals that go on in maintaining the resort - like the resort, extreme measures may need to be taken in order to maintain order.
This sense of choice and reacting in a gender-specific way are all treated with the sense of catharsis that Loktev’s film had, but in Ostlund’s capable hands, he molds something much more cynical and humorous in response. In his battle of the sexes, there are no winners or losers, but rather the delusional acceptance of an archaic gender hierarchy. Okay, so perhaps we are all losers.