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Force Majeure

Ruben Östlund sets his sights on masculine pride in his newest work.

Still from Force Majeure.

Ruben Östlund (Sweden, Special Presentations)
4 Stars

Masculinity itself is at stake in Ruben Östlund’s wry, button-pushing Force Majeure, Sweden’s official Oscar submission. The premise is simple enough: during a family ski trip in the French Alps, an avalanche appears to be headed straight for patriarch Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their darling blonde children, parked like sitting ducks at a restaurant with a view. While Ebba holds the children, Tomas flees, only to find moments later that all is well—except for the fact that his family bonds have been severed.

Tomas’s error of self-preservation becomes a kind of curse, poisoning relationships not just with his family, who can’t look at him the same way, but also with the couple’s friends, who inevitably take sides, acting out what seems like a prehistoric conversation about gender essentialism in hunter-gatherer societies. Östlund’s sharp, critical sensibility and minimalist aesthetic keep this material from being too on the nose, even if it feels as if most of what it has to say is delivered in that one deciding minute.

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