Kristofer Hivju in ‘Force Majeure’
Kristofer Hivju in ‘Force Majeure’

Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure is a hideously enjoyable dark comedy from Sweden. We shouldn’t relish others’ misery this much. But Bergman and Von Trier, among others, have made a near-rhyme of “Scandinavia” and “Schadenfreude”. Here a Swedish family on a French Alps skiing holiday is rent apart, emotionally and spiritually, after an avalanche almost engulfs the hotel’s balcony restaurant.

Mum (Lisa Loven Kongsli) will not forgive dad (Johannes Kuhnke) for running off in this crisis moment — in a spasm of cowardice as brief yet indelibly damning as that of Conrad’s Lord Jim — leaving her to protect the two kids. Dad’s semi-abashed return after the snow dust settles is too late. He is, and will be, the enduring victim of her recriminations. These are often spoken aloud, bitterly, mockingly, to new and casual friends, right in his presence. The socio-psychological crucifying of intimates: so very Ingmar B.

In quieter moments of despair mum weeps and dad weeps and the children weep. But Östlund never grants for long the mercy of poignancy. The shade of Strindberg walks into this hotel to join Conrad and Bergman. The pine-timbered super-chalet becomes an echo chamber for anguished absurdism. Not just the après-ski cocktail hours loud with reproach; also the insolently intrusive male cleaner who enjoys a hallway smoke, more than once, in full eavesdropping earshot of the squabblers, or the young co-vacationing couple who catch their friends’ discord like a disease. The climactic scene, on a hotel bus hairpinning down a mountain, is in nearly all senses hysterical; even if a suicidal conductor of a passenger vehicle may, right now, not be the most tactful topic for screen entertainment.

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