On a family skiing trip in the beautiful French Alps ski resort of Les Arcs, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children (Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren) enjoy a meal together after a day on the slopes. In what is to become the defining moment of Tomas’s life, he recoils in terror when an avalanche threatens the life of his wife and kids. Everyone survives physically, but Tomas’s masculinity takes a tremendous hit. His instinct for self-preservation haunts him and causes a rift between him and the people he loves.
Swedish director Ruben Ostlund takes him time setting up the story, pausing on the minutia of the family’s life, until the astonishing avalanche scene. It’s visually impressive, a wall of fluffy snow that is equal parts beautiful and terrifying, and a perfect backdrop for this test of the power of a parent’s love versus our modern idea of masculinity.
It’s the first of several memorable scenes—another stand-out being Tomas’s extended crying jag, a deeply personal moment that verges on comedy—that detail the crumbling emotional state of a guy who wonders if he is not the man he always thought he was. “Force Majeure” is emotionally insightful; a high wire balancing act that juggles the observation of Tomas’s disintegration and, less satisfyingly, his redemption.