By Leslie Byron Pitt, @Afrofilmviewer
In terms of adult mainstream cinema, the final quarter of last year was dominated by talk of the gender politics of David Fincher’s slick adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel; Gone Girl. The film, as well as the book, merrily sticks and twists the knife on the uglier side of a decaying relationship. Executed with extravagant twists and perverse cruelty, Gone Girl highlighted the battle of the sexes the only way America wants to these days, as a grand soap opera. Anxiety is displayed externally in force, not only via media outlets, and charismatic lawyers, but by a liberal sprinkling of bloodletting.
Force Majeure also takes a stab at a marriage falling apart, but does so with scalpel like accuracy. At times the blades so sharp, you’re not sure you’re bleeding.
It certainly feels that way for Tomas, whose trip to the French Alps starts takes an unconventional turn when an abrupt occurrence involving a supposedly controlled avalanche allows his marriage and his masculinity to unravel. Acting as if his spilt second decision was of no circumstance, Thomas’ relationship with his family begins to stumble, tumble and fall. So bad is his act, that even when others talk about it privately, the conversation causes rifts.
Director Ruben Östlund’s piece is dark comedy of morals and manners, which is dictated delightfully by its precise and particular manner. Actors are blocked to create separation between each other, and framed mostly in mid-shot to keep our distance as these people fall apart. Östlund slowly turns the class hotel establishment into a hostile battlefield as the cannoning sounds of the controlled avalanches shudder around the family. The humour comes from just how deeply repressed an internalised the social anxiety has become. Watching Thomas squirm to not only evade his responsibility, but struggle to justify his patriarchal standing is hilarious, if only for the element of truth that it brings to so many males who hold a particular viewpoint.
The DVD features a making of documentary, a trailer and the now infamous YouTube clip of Östlund freaking out and crying as Force Majeure misses out on being nominated for the foreign language academy award. With the knowledge from the included documentary and other clips that Östlund in greatly influenced by YouTube and that Force Majeure’s main theme is the undressing of male masculinity, the clip is a relatively amusing and subversive aside to the film as a whole. As Östlund’s freak out is mostly off screen, one can consider the inclusion as yet another aspect of Östlund deftly skewing the male ego. As a film writer that often looks at the Oscars as ego stroking, genital extensions, it’s hard not to think that its director is making a crafty quip at the award ceremonies expense.
This is what makes the disc of Force Majeure such an entertaining purchase. Östlund’s ability to tip the balance so slightly, and with such ease, to disrupt the rhythm and cause a mountain out of a molehill is fascinating as well as droll. While the Americans bring across their point, by putting up a front and allowing the claret to spill. The Swedish look to dismantle stereotypical societal values quietly and elegantly. Allowing the rhythmic clanging of a ski lift to unsettle as well as amuse. I do sometimes hold the belief that if some mainstream directors had to try and create their films in a similar way, they’d react like Thomas does. They’d run away.