The bitingly brilliant Force Majeure is a dark comedy that shakes the bedrock of conventional family values, and the social fabric. Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund sets us up with an average family on vacation in the French Alps. Father, mother and two children are about to enjoy “quality time” with one another, their first chance in a long while, because the father works so hard. They’re relaxing together eating breakfast, gazing majestic snowy peaks and looking forward to a good day of skiing and togetherness. But everything changes in a flash and when an avalanche strikes. We spoke with Östlund about this modern morality tale.
First things first. How did you get the avalanche to “co-operate” and blow right up onto the restaurant patio?
The avalanche is actually shot in British Colombia! It’s a Canadian avalanche that messes up things for a Swedish family in the French Alps. Quite funny! The avalanche scene is put together with green screen and CGI, and artificial snow smoke was used in a studio in Göteborg, Sweden where we built the restaurant terrace.
The husband runs for his life when the avalanche comes at them, leaving the family to fend for themselves. Serious stuff, but you play it for pathos and laughs.
I’m glad that you can see that in Force Majeure. Life in itself is humorous and tragic at the same time — life is not a genre movie. It is challenging because audiences have learned about what is supposed to be humorous and what is supposed to be tragic. The two don’t very often meet in one film.
The film seriously questions the concept of the “happy marriage”. Any conclusions?
Yes, I don’t believe in it. I think the idea of couple relationships and the nuclear family is only making people unhappy. There are exceptions but they are very rare. Unhappy people need to consume to find a meaning in their lives and that’s why they hang on to it.
There is such realism not only in the content but in the way the characters respond to one another. How did you get them to reach that level of intimacy?
Thank you! I think I gave the actors time and trust. It’s important that they don’t feel pressured when we are shooting. I also think it’s important to reconsider the script during the shooting process. If we feel that something is wrong with it, we try to reconsider and find a better way. Very often actors are stuck with a script that doesn’t work.