It’s not often you see skiing at the cinema. The odd implausible chase scene in a James Bond movie aside…
But there’s little implausible about Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure, which is perhaps why it makes such unsettling viewing. (Warning: Ostlund is Swedish. The film has subtitles and it’s not an action movie…).
Actually there are a few quibbles regular skiers or snowboarders may notice, such as the avalanche-bombing just above a restaurant, which would just never happen, or the fact the conditions can go from snow that clearly fell weeks ago to powder within the same blue-skied day. But these are minor points and anyway this isn’t a film about skiing, it’s a movie about the human condition set in a ski resort.
That ski resort is Les Arcs, a setting which is used brilliantly and in a wholly original way, especially for those of us used to watching whoop-heavy, super-happy ski or snowboard action clips. (Interesting side point: Ostlund’s first film credits were the ski movies Addicted and Free Radicals in the early 1990s.)
In Force Majeure, Ostlund subverts the idea of a ski resort as a place of play, instead suggesting it can be quite foreboding and claustrophobic. The perma-white palette, the violent clunk of the button lift after disembark, the way those same lifts are shot to look like prison bars, the enclosed magic carpet… even the luxe hotel interior suggests an all-seeing panopticon, from which you can never escape the gaze of the hotel staff or other people you’re on holiday with.
If this is making the film sound too heavy, don’t worry there’s a lot of dark humour in there too, especially in the scenes featuring Kristofer Hivju (yep, him off Game of Thrones).
It’s not giving anything away to say Force Majeure centres on an avalanche event. You can see that from the poster and the trailer.
But this is no 1970s disaster movie, as the trailer also tells us, for this is less about the avalanche and more about the aftermath, and namely what happens to a family unit when the father has abandoned them in their split-second of maximum need.
And in that Ostlund doesn’t just mess with our notions of holiday or enforced family leisure time, he also calls into question 21st century manhood, parental obligation and whether you can be held responsible for the way you instinctively react in a life or death situation.
It’s a must-watch. And in spite of everything it will still also make you want to ski or snowboard in Les Arcs.
In UK cinemas and On Demand now
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