A bourgeois Swedish family – attractive thirtysomething parents (Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two young children – check in at a posh French ski resort for a five-day holiday in the snow. Early in the trip, the family is surprised by a terrifying but nonlethal avalanche during lunch. How the father reacts during those few snowblind seconds alters the mother's opinion of him drastically. Much talking, a bit of soul-searching, and a little emotional manipulation between the two then ensues.
Force Majeure covers the same basic ground as Julia Loktev's 2011 indie The Loneliest Planet. Indeed, classic 1960s foreign fare such as Antonioni's L'avventura and Godard's Contempt tackled the same issue as well: what happens when a man doesn't do right by his woman. Each film documents the woman's unforgiving response to her man's unchivalrous behavior, while the man flails about in varying degrees of denial and shame.
This isn't just a pastiche of those older films, however. The sterility of this "cozy", ultra-chic resort, set up to cater to its guests' every whim, is shot at times like the Overlook's creepy corridors in The Shining. Force Majeure may in fact have more to do with those geometrically perfect hotel rooms than with those hoary "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" dichotomies. The idea, I think, is that people in the First World, especially in "politically correct" countries like Sweden, now lead lives so placid and predictable that they've engineered all the warmth, spontaneity, and humanity out of their existences. So if Kuhnke's character thinks to save his smartphone rather than his family, it may not be so much about his own wimpiness as it is about modern Western society's priorities as a whole.
Heady stuff, but after all, this is a Swedish film.
However, Force Majeure – the title, chosen for international distribution, comes from the legalese for an extraordinary event that's out of our control (e.g., war, flood, avalanche); the film's Swedish title is the generic-sounding Turist, which has its own potent meaning – isn't just an exercise in navel-gazing. Crisply shot and cut, with a snowiness you can taste and some surprisingly suspenseful moments and a wry sense of humor, it's always entertaining, even if it won't satisfy those audiences hoping for tidy endings. This is one of those films you see and then discuss with your date afterward, over coffee. On second thought, don't bring a date.