Force Majeure is about a Swedish couple, Tomas and Ebba, and their young children, Vera and Harry, who are on a winter holiday at an alpine ski lodge. While taking a lunch break overlooking the mountain at a terrace restaurant, Harry becomes fixated by a massive wave of snow cascading down in the distance and forming an avalanche. Harry becomes unsettled as it picks up speed and approaches the lodge. When a wall of white spray begins to blanket the terrace, Tomas reaches for his phone and gloves in a moment of perilous panic and pushes past a nearby patron as he rushes for safety. Meanwhile Ebba grabs her children as she tries to protect them.
The white mist passes in less than a minute, and turns out to be nothing more than a spray caused by the snow that has come to rest well below the restaurant. Tomas returns to the table and acts as if he didn’t just abandon his family; stunned by his behavior they stare stone-faced and sit in silence.
There are three conversations that play a prominent role in shaping the story. Upon arrival, Ebba befriends another hotel guest who left her husband at home to watch over her children while she takes a vacation alone for some quality me-time. Ebba and Tomas run into her later with a random man she picked up that day, and after Ebba recounts what happened during the avalanche, Tomas refutes any notion he deserted his family. When Ebba runs into her newfound friend again, she questions how she’s able to have such casual affairs without thought or regard for her family. Days later after one of Tomas’s mates joins them along with his twenty-year old girlfriend, Ebba brings up the avalanche again and forces Tomas to acknowledge his shameful conduct, and Tomas alludes to other past indiscretions.
At the opening the film, the family goes everywhere together and functions as a unit. Ebba suddenly tells Tomas that she wants to spend the day skiing by herself, and leaves the kids with Tomas. It’s clear Ebba is searching for answers as she struggles with whether she should preserve her marriage for the sake of her family.
Force Majeure is a film with an interesting premise that doesn’t fulfill its potential. The family’s awkwardness is really well captured through its silence in the scene at the table immediately following the avalanche, but in the very next scene, there is a nervous smile in Ebba’s conversation with Tomas. Whether it’s something Lisa Loven Kongsli injected into Ebba’s character, or something she was directed to do, this sense of forgiveness or possibly meekness seems inappropriate for that particular moment.
Additionally, some of the background effects seem misplaced. Between certain scenes, portions of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are used in a playful manner, which would work in a light-hearted movie, except here it only undermines the seriousness of what is weighing on Ebba. There is also a wide-shot of Tomas and Ebba talking outside their room from the perspective of the housekeeper that is intended to create a voyeuristic feel. It’s effective the first time it’s used, but it becomes a distraction after it’s repeated several times without contributing anything further to the story. There is also an impressive visual effect where Tomas is moving at normal film speed in the foreground while a crowd in the street starts running forward from the background at a much faster film speed. As the crowd runs past Tomas, it has no connection to the story other than a demonstration of one of the cinematographer’s really cool special effects.
Where Force Majeure falls short is following the avalanche, Ebba should have become the central figure as she contemplates what direction to take. If her dialogue with Tomas was more substantial and carried a greater weight, this could have been a much stronger film.