Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s fourth movie Turist made him an international star. Better known by its English title Force Majeure, Turist (2014) contains the elements also present in Ostlund’s subsequent films The Square and Triangle of Sadness – grim comedy, the existential crises that are forever lurking around the corner, the crisis in communication between seemingly rational people, the primitive streak that courses underneath a veneer of civilisation.

The Square (2017), a critique of high art and contemporary gender relations, won the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honour, the Palme D’or. Like other feted European directors – Yorgos Lanthimos, Susanna Bier, Tomas Alfredson – Ostlund turned to Hollywood after the Cannes recognition, making the mixed-bag satire Triangle of Sadness (2022).

Ostlund is on home turf and at home in Force Majeure, where a family on a vacation at a ski resort in the French Alps unravels. The 119-minute film is being streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

Force Majeure is an expertly calibrated exercise in chaos. A controlled avalanche on the second day of a five-day vacation exposes the cracks in Tomas’s marriage. He flees the spot, leaving his wife Ebba, daughter Vera and son Harry to face the consequences.

Ebba reacts badly to Tomas’s perceived abandonment. Tomas argues that a mountain is being made out of a molehill. Ebba’s disquiet infects a visiting couple, who begin to wonder about how each of them would have reacted in similar circumstances.

The question of whether Ebba is over-reacting or whether Tomas is truly shallow is left to the viewer. Rather than a morality tale, Ostlund has crafted a nightmare vacation drama, in which every available element of the wintry surroundings – from the acres of snow to the sounds made by ski lifts – is deployed to ratchet up the tension between a previously happy and seemingly harmonious couple.

The top-notch cast includes Game of Thrones alum Kristofer Hivju. Some of the painterly frames – the masterful cinematography is by Fredrik Wenzel – echo the works of Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The cringe comedy smoothly moves into looming darkness as Tomas and Ebba reach the limits of propriety. In their travails lies a very familiar tale of a period of relaxation turning to introspection, but without the easy short-cuts or convenient resolutions resorted to by similar films.

Force Majeure (2014).

Also read:

‘Triangle of Sadness’ is a blunt-edged attack on late-stage capitalism