Force Majeure (Turist, 2014)

Poster for Force Majeure

This Swedish-language film is a black comedy about the human ability to reconceive humiliation as heroism and failure as triumph. It’s set in a ski resort in the French Alps, and the majestic setting, with its crystalline air and pure white snow, only magnifies the inadequacies of the characters, particularly the Swedish family of four at the heart of the story. Tomas is a workaholic who is finally taking five days to focus on his family, and Ebba is his beautiful wife and the devoted mother of their two spoiled children, Vera and Harry. While eating lunch on the veranda of the resort one day, they witness a controlled avalanche that nevertheless causes everyone on the veranda to panic. Tomas runs away, leaving his wife and children huddled under the table. His failure of nerve precipitates a crisis in the family.

The comedy of this scenario is very dry and deadpan. It’s a comedy of denial and emotional contortions observed from a chilly distance. I’ve seen some comparisons to Kubrick, and I think part of it is the way the mountainous landscape and modernist architecture of the resort are used to create a sense of austere beauty that seems to mock the fumbling foibles of the flawed characters. Even the mechanisms of the ski lifts and conveyor walkways seem to complain about the idiocy of human behavior or to threaten unexpectedly to break the illusion of command and control. Everything is regular, repetitive, mechanical, but constantly on the verge of coming apart at the seams. I’ve also seen this described as an attack on bourgeois complacency, but if there’s a class element to the satire, it’s too subtle for me. These are middle class characters leading a life of privilege, but their flaws are universal.

The Swedish title is Turist, which means “tourist.” I didn’t know what “force majeure” meant until I looked it up this morning, but the implications of Force Majeure as a title seem quite a bit different from Turist. In some ways Force Majeure spells out the underlying theme of the film, which is the attempt to dodge responsibility for reactions to events outside of one’s control. Turist perhaps mocks the characters for living life as though they’re only visitors looking to escape the responsibilities of the daily grind. Well, maybe that’s not so different after all.

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