by Richard Gould
The Swedish FORCE MAJEURE is a reminder that movies about family come in 31 flavors, and I’ve never seen one that strikes quite the nervous mood of Ruben Östlund’s black comedy – a mood that’s heightened to goosebumps by Östlund’s long unblinking takes and his camera’s glacial stillness. A family of four’s ski vacation to the French Alps places them in matchless beauty and splendor. Walls of mile-high slopes and spires are their backdrop, and the gleaming resort itself – a cross between the Overlook and Mann’s sanatorium – seems to elevate the well-scrubbed kin to perfection in the way money will. But that all takes a hit one morning over breakfast, when a controlled avalanche seen from their outdoor café starts to become less so – and, bringing half the mountainside along with it, proceeds to wallop right down onto them all (that scene, taken in a single shot, is a special effect for the ages). Thankfully, the disaster is a near miss, but there’s a problem: Husband Tomas bolted from the table alone for safety, leaving mother and children to fend for themselves. As they settle back to their meal under a light dusting of snow – and for the rest of the film – things are decidedly awkward. Shy to look that frozen moment in the eye, Tomas instead sees a piecemeal dismantling of himself creeping in, while wife Ebba finds her attempts to take it all ironically fraying at the edges. Fortunately, the best skiing on the continent awaits them as a diversion. Pitiless, mordantly funny, heart-rending.