Friday, October 24, 2014

Swedish Oscar Bait, 2014: Ruben Östlund's crystalline and unsettling FORCE MAJEURE

One of the most interesting films of this past year and, in its way, one of the most daring explorations of "manhood" and its discontents, FORCE MAJEURE, the new Swedish film from Ruben Östlund (as well as that country's submission for this year's Best Foreign Language Film), is a brilliantly conceived look at the male imperative as seen from inside and out, subjectively, objectively, and just about every which way.

And yet, blissfully for the inveterate moviegoer, Östlund's film (the moviemaker is shown at right) is never didactic; it shows rather than tells, and neither is it judgmental. It allows us to really watch and consider and be pushed and pulled back and forth as we identify with husband, wife, friends and children, even hotel employees -- as we try to come to terms with what has happened and what this means. Is what happened a "deal-breaker," or is the behavior that follows the event what matters more? Can anything -- after this kind of moment occurs -- count at all?

The central event takes place early on, and if you've seen the not-very-good film by Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet, you'll know what that events entails. Loktev's movie failed because of its refusal to explore, not just the event itself, but even simple characterization of those involved in it. Force Majeure explores it all, even as it entertains us spectacularly well by being intelligent, specific, encompassing and even quite a bit of fun.

I'd rather not give away details here; you deserve to discover and ponder them for yourself. Suffice it to say that the film's husband (a sterling job from Johannes Kuhnke, above, left) while on a family vacation at a resort in the French Alps, does something pivotal about which he must come to terms if he is to save his marriage and most probably himself.

How he does this -- with the help (and sometime hindrance) of wife, friends, kids -- is the meat of Force Majeure, and it makes a tasty, nourishing meal. Writer/director Östlund has a way with both words and pictures, keeping us spellbound and off-kilter from his first scene (above) -- in which a photographer at the resort in which the family is staying takes photo after photo of our crew -- to the final moments in which we see characters simply walking. But, oh, what energy is felt here!

The character of the wife slowly comes to the fore as the movie unfurls, and Lisa Loven Kongsli (above, left) does a crack job of deciphering her, while allowing us to gradually understand the woman. Male and female "roles" are explored here about as well as I've seen done in decades of film-going.

Subsidiary roles are performed beautifully, too, especially dad's best friend, played by Kristofer Hivju (above) and his a-bit-too-young girlfriend (Fanni Metelius). In a relatively (considering the events here) easy-going, believable manner, our current and rather long-standing ideas about manhood are held up to view and possibly challenged. But the filmmaker doesn't unduly push us in any direction, which is one of the beauties of this movie.

The conclusion(s) audiences will themselves arrive at may differ, but I doubt there will be be much disagreement regarding the strengths of Force Majeure -- which is one, major, satisfying movie. From Magnolia Pictures and running 118 minutes, it opens today, Friday, October 24, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema. The following Friday, October 31, it hits another dozen cities (in L.A., it plays at several Laemmle theaters), and will continue its nationwide opening in cities across the country in the weeks and months to come. Click here to all currently scheduled playdates.

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