Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Force Majeure": Smart Concepts Padded With Fluff

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

A critical darling on the festival circuit, Force Majeure was what many thought a sure thing to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2015 Academy Awards.  Alas, along with many upsets in this year’s nomination pool, Force Majeure was nowhere to be seen.  And, considering that finding available copies or showings of the nominated foreign language films is near impossible, I decided that I’d take a look at this film upon its home video release to see what the fuss was about.  So is it a good film?  Assuredly.  Is it award worthy?  Well…

Taking place in the French Alps, Swedish married couple Ebba and Tomas take their children on a skiing trip.  While dining at their resort’s balcony restaurant, the family sees an avalanche coming right for them.  Ebba ducks to shield their children with her body, and Tomas runs away from the table, grabbing his gloves and phone in the process, leaving his family behind.  The avalanche turns out to have been a controlled run, and all that enveloped them was the residual plums from the snowslide, leaving everyone unharmed.  What follows is an emotional crisis as Ebba tries to rationalize how her husband could have left them like that, and Tomas puts up a front to preserve face and maintain his masculine dignity.

Embedded in this is some really worthwhile commentary about the rigidity and irrationality of gender roles in traditionally heterosexual relationships.  Does a man need to be the protector of his family from external dangers, or is it okay for him to have a flight reaction that would be expected of his wife and children?  Is a woman more instinctually driven to protect her children than her male counterpart, and if so, does that make the man a lesser parent?  The film grapples with these concepts, and while it doesn’t come to any hard conclusions beyond the state of this particular couple’s relationship, it is appreciated that such assumed gender clich├ęs are put under the microscope.

However, I think this film suffers heavily in the pacing department.  At times, the film drags on and on, supposedly to add tension to the conflict between the couple, but it only ends up feeling like filler.  There are also really bizarrely inserted comedic sequences that feel out of place, and mostly unfunny given the lack of tonal establishment.  And then, to top it all off, the film climaxes on a satisfying and resonant note, but proceeds for an extra ten minutes with an epilogue that is baffling as it is unnecessary.  All of these faults amount to a film that should have been much shorter, and possibly would have served better as a short subject rather than a feature film.

There’s some good stuff to be had in Force Majeure, but it’s buried in an avalanche of unnecessary fluff, presumably only there to give it some arthouse cred.  Though I think the film is worth seeing, I completely understand why the Academy passed this one up.  See it for yourself, but keep your expectations in check.

What films do you think would have been better served with content left on the cutting room floor?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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