PFF23: Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, SWE)

Simultaneously straightforward and thought-provoking in its dissection of the contemporary family patriarch, Force Majeure examines the fallout stemming from a thoughtless father’s actions – or lack thereof. While vacationing in the French Alps, a Swedish family’s safety is threatened by a controlled avalanche gone potentially haywire. As surrounding fellow tourists flee the scene, one Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) leaves his own family behind without as much as a fleeting glance. Stunned by her husband’s cowardice and subsequent denial of the truth, wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) rightfully lambastes him as the fabric of their relationship steadily unravels.

Although nuanced, slight even, in terms of presenting and prolonging its core conflict, the proceedings emanate a corresponding air of authenticity that speaks to both the central family and viewers’ nearly unavoidable empathy. It’s able to competently beset an agreeably bleak scenario with both humor and a satirical incisiveness that’s rarely if ever overbearing, even as it navigates stilted sub-thematic trappings. Whether it’s staying together for the kids or the obvious repercussions of Tomas’ less-than-paternal fight-or-flight instincts, Östlund’s penchant for on-the-nose commentary is forgivable thanks to sheer engagement.

Refreshingly unconvoluted amid its remarkable aesthetic flair, Force Majeure is assuredly a benchmark in 2014’s repertoire. The script’s keen portrayal of its core family’s plight isn’t entirely groundbreaking, yet the gusto with which it progresses is hard to ignore in relation to comparable family dramas. Laughs are had and discomfort is appropriately palpable as masculine conventions are tackled and torn down amid very few hindrances – a statement that remains true despite my mere enjoyment of writer/director Ruben Östlund’s latest.

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