Force Majeure, Review NZIFF

Yes, yes, this is two weeks late and the NZIFF was done with last Sunday, but here is one of my final reviews.

I saw In the Courtyard directly before this, but cannot bring myself to punch out a half decent review. It wasn’t bad, merely overshadowed by the raw power of Force Majeure.

‘Force majeure’ is a legal term describing ‘an act of God’. It refers to natural disasters and the like and is often a clause in contracts etc. 

A young married couple take their two children to a luxury ski resort in France, where the simple act of the father running away and abandoning his panicking family in the face of an avalanche. I am being savagely terse here, and I hope the reduction of the plot into a sentence doesn’t give the impression that there is little in the film. That is plainly wrong. Force Majeure explores what happens when the survival instinct forces the ego to temporarily disappear, and it takes it’s time to work through the implications.

For anyone studying film this is a brilliant example of psychoanalytical cinema, and a very accessible one. While I am sure a reading of Jaques Lacan (a French psychoanalyst who wrote extensively on film) would uncover so much more, thankfully Force Majeure proves that it isn’t necessary to be so high brow. I say that because I tried reading Lacan at University and couldn’t understand a bloody thing. French academics are renowned for being so opaque they can’t even read each other.

Film psychoanalysis is generally on the same wavelength as feminist film theory — my favourite mode of critique. Force Majeure investigates the masculine subconscious which is denied by the husband’s ego, so he denies that he fled his family in the face of the avalanche and that denial causes his wife to lose all faith in him. I haven’t written spoiler alert yet because I’m really only regurgitating the bits of narrative explained in the films marketing.

The setting is what you would expect of alpine France. Snow buried mountain peaks in the background of most shots, a conspicuously clean hotel which juxtaposes with the emotional chaos playing out within the characters. The avalanche was ‘controlled’, and though frightening for the characters it was ultimately harmless. Loud, rumbling booms sound frequently, obviously they are part of the system of provoking small avalanches to guard against the possibility of a big one sweeping over the resort. Metaphorical perhaps, symbolizing the vital safety valve required in relationships. Almost as frequent are the opening bars of Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The combination of these partnered with the stark silence that reigns over much of the rest of the film reminded me of The Shining. And the themes are linked, however the main difference is that the events of The Shining were very particular to the characters in that film. In Force Majeure there is the palpable sense that this could happen (and probably does) to any family.

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