Force Majeur is a film of piercing wit, much like the seething hatred of Godard’s Weekend but encased in an otherwise (I think, deliberately) unremarkable style. This is a series of moments, scenes from a crap contemporary European holiday that buzz with electric toothbrushes and electric-pop, but also vibrate with a unsettling, and at times very funny psychodrama.
On the slopes of a French ski resort, a nice; bourgeois family collapses. When a controlled avalanche threatens to sweep the family away, the mother grabs her children to protect them. But as the mist clears, and it becomes evident that they were never really in danger, it is the father‘s role that looks the most damaged by the forces of nature. Rather then protect his family, the father (played by a thick-jawed, Johannes Kuhnke) simply turned-tail, and ran. In the eyes of the mother (icily played by Lisa Loven Kongsli), the strong, protective, father is reimagined as a pathetic, useless, and emasculated eunuch, at odds with her fantasy of him. Unable to escape his wife’s withering gaze he becomes dejected, pathetic, useless- exactly what she casts him as. Theron, the family unravels with a devastating velocity, as the parental relationship is pulled apart by the emotional forces brimming beneath the surface.
Neither of the parents dare truly utter it but it is clear that unless the father plays the right role, their marriage will be swept away. The brilliant series of sketches that follows rely largely on the unspoken, and the unpictured. The family cannot utter the truly hilarious cowardice of the Dad, because to imagine for a moment that he was simply scared is unspeakable. The fallout is a grim exercise in schadenfreude, which exorcises the audience of envy for stable homes, and nice holidays. The film becomes populist film-making in a time of austerity, Netflix Fodder, because it brings down the facade of the middle-class family in an avalanche of its own bullshit.
At times characters appear just out of the frame and engage with the father, without their faces even being seen, these frames become POV shots for the outsiders, casting the audience in their shoes. We are invited to watch the family’s arguments from the perspective of a mute janitor who smokes from a balcony opposite. The banal arguments of bourgeois life are made strange by our distance from them, given perspective by the eyes of the other holidaymakers. In this public-private resort the family can’t quite close the door on their crisis and we are invited in as observers, or tourists, in their hilarious, tragic crisis.
Despite the cutting subject matter the film only really allows itself to experiment in one moment where it slips into a hallucinatory mode. In this sequence, the father is inexplicably chased down by a stampeding herd of laddish males whom scream and harangue him in a trance-like ritual of football, lager, and topless homosociality. In this sequence a bizarro-mirror is held up to the world of men’s magazines and shaving commercials, of ultra-hooliganism and hetero-pornography, it is an orgy of self-flaggelating masculinity that shows itself as the deranged monstrosity that it is, but Tomas and his family are left to live with its very real failings.
Funny, sharp, and thoughtful, this is a well aimed stab at a script rooted in the everyday. This film is as sharp as Godard’s Weekend, but without the maverick form that limits that films reach. A return ticket through the European bestiary, that will leave you with a few keepsakes worth the journey.