An avalanche descends on a family of tourists and it’s not even among the five worst things to happen to them on their cursed ski trip in Force Majeure, the blackly comic Swedish psychodrama from director Ruben Östlund.

It begins innocuously enough. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are taking a long-awaited holiday to the French Alps with their young children Vera and Harry (siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren), and all is going swimmingly. That all changes when a landslide of snow heads straight for their breakfast table one morning and Tomas bolts, only to awkwardly shuffle back to his abandoned kin when the avalanche stops short of actually burying them alive.

His cowardly actions loom large over the next few days, with the kids especially confused by the new splinter in their understanding of fatherly heroism, and Ebba curious if she really knows her husband at all. Tomas, meanwhile, is in denial about running away, but some incriminating video footage – from his own camera, no less – will handily shatter that façade for him. As tensions amongst them mount, minor, controlled explosions echo throughout the ski park. Tomas’ only salvation as their getaway nears its end: a series of other almost-tragedies that allow him a chance to save the day, and for Ebba to embarrass herself.


Fans of National Lampoon’s Vacation, or misanthropes in general, should get a kick out of this. (Although, where Clark Griswold would deal with his frustrations by boiling over into an American rage, his European counterpart Tomas simply crumples, weeping, into an emasculated mess. Satire?) Fredrik Wenzel’s camera lingers, motionless, on the emotional horror of its awkward sequences long past the point of them being bearable, sudden stings of orchestral score blaring at each scene’s crescendo. The filmmaker has made no secret of his desire to induce waves of divorce amongst audiences unwittingly subjecting themselves to this gender-deconstructing tale of marital turmoil. His film is so effective, he just might succeed.

In 2013, The Loneliest Planet revealed how a split second decision can change the dynamic of a relationship for all time. In Force Majeure, the same happens. However, rather than Östlund pointing at ways in which our characters can heal, he recommends having the scales simply keep tipping back and forth, so that someone is always losing to the other. A very funny, often harrowing indictment of cohabitation, at home or on holiday, Force Majeure will alienate as many as it entertains. I’m not even sure Östlund, a cunning craftsman with total clarity of devious vision, even wants that many in the latter camp.

Force Majeure plays the Perth Festival from January 27 to February 8, 2015.