LIFE IS PAIN, even in the gorgeous French Alps. What starts as a perfect family vacation—one spent skiing pristine mountains, chatting in restaurants, laughing with friends—goes hideously awry in Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund's darkly hilarious and/or darkly horrifying tale of a marriage on the rocks. Or maybe that should be "on the slopes"? I don't know. The important thing is that these people are fucked.
At first, the hairline cracks seem minor—a few slight, if pointed, remarks between Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and her husband, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), remarks that are patiently noted by their permanently moping children, Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren), but that otherwise seem hardly notable, the same day-to-day strain that marks any relationship. But when the family dines outside, on the resort's deck, a controlled avalanche appears to explode out of control—and Tomas, scrambling to escape, leaves behind Ebba and the kids.
Once the snow clears, Ebba and Tomas' slow burn of disappointment, rage, and sadness begins. Östlund, with a remarkable eye and a deft sense of timing, wrings everything out of his deceptively simple setup: Moving and unpredictable, Force Majeure keeps the viewer as uncomfortable and unsure as Ebba and Tomas. And, like Vera and Harry, we're helpless to do anything but watch this marriage's cracks split and shudder. (Any child of divorce—where my divorce pals at?—will likely suffer a few flashbacks. Except this time it's funny!)
As things get worse for Tomas and Ebba—their resentment and shame becoming its own sort of avalanche of awkward—the discomfort spreads, not only to their friends Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanny (Fanni Metelius), but to the resort itself: Gradually, almost imperceptibly, Östlund transforms Ebba and Tomas' upscale vacation haven from something warm and welcoming to a cold, alien prison; its air, crisp and clear, grows loud not with chatter but with the thudding, soulless echoes of the resort's clattering machinery. Life is pain, even in the gorgeous French Alps. Life is pain, and sometimes there's an avalanche.