With unnerving subtlety, this acclaimed Swedish drama takes a startlingly honest look at the underlying fragility of family connections. Pivoting around a split-second of panic, the film mixes earthy honesty and wrenching emotions to explore the pressure of gender roles. It's strikingly well-shot and played with unusual openness by a solid cast. And it's such a razor sharp depiction that it can't help but chill the audience to the bone.
The events unfold in the French Alps, as a Swedish family enjoys a skiing holiday amid spectacular mountain peaks and freshly fallen snow. Then one morning while having breakfast on an outdoor terrace enjoying the view, a controlled avalanche surges far too close for comfort. When the snowy powder settles, it becomes clear that the parents had very different reactions in that moment of fear: Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) dropped everything and ran, while Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) tried to protect their children Vera and Harry (real siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren). Suddenly there's a fissure in their relationship, and neither Tomas nor Ebba can cope with the implications, privately beginning to wonder whether their marriage can survive the rest of the week.
Filmmaker Ostlund (Play) explores this heart-stopping event with remarkable complexity, continually shifting the audience's sympathies. Should Tomas be written off for a moment of blind panic? Can Ebba trust him to be there for her and the children when they need him? And as the plot develops, things only become stickier. First, the kids begin acting out as they sense their world is starting to shake. Then Tomas and Ebba turn to their friends (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius and Karin Myernberg Faber) for advice and support, but only find that things are crumbling further. On the other hand, perhaps if they can find a way to be open with each other there may be some hope yet.
Continue reading: Force Majeure Review
The double-edged irony of the title is your first hint: this is a clever pitch-black satire that often feels like a cruel joke. It's the first in a trilogy by acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl about the way we look for meaning in life (up next are Faith and Hope), and it's designed specifically to catch us off guard. The film also makes us squirm in our seats as it encourages us to laugh at all the wrong things while finding some haunting truths about human yearning.
It starts in Vienna, where 50-year-old Teresa (Tiesel) is struggling to cope with her lazy teen daughter Meli (Lenz). So she drops Meli off with her sister (Hofstatter) and takes a holiday at a Kenyan beach resort. Her intention is to escape from the pressures back home, but a fellow tourist (Maux) teaches her about the joys of local beach boys. With an image of true romance in her head, Teresa strikes up a friendship with the frisky young Gabriel (Mwarua). Their first sexual encounter doesn't go so well, but she's encouraged to try again with persistent nice-guy Munga (Kazungu). The question is whether real love is even possible with one of these young men. Or are they all just after her cash?
As with his previous dramas Dog Days and Import/Export, filmmaker Seidl uses carefully composed scenes that catch our eye with their striking imagery and unexpected honesty. The African coastline provides a gorgeous backdrop for characters who have such a strong visual contrast that we can't look away: chubby, pale middle-aged women and lean, muscled young black men. But it's not always apparent who's using whom here, and there are hints that both are looking for something elusive.
Continue reading: Paradise: Love [Paradies: Liebe] Review