I was visiting family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this past weekend when I learned that the first major snowstorm of the season was headed for the Twin Cities. In Minneapolis, there are two seasons: snow and no snow. So this news came as a warning to Minnesotans that they should bid a fond farewell to their grass and ground cover until next spring.
The snowstorm news also felt apropos as I sat in a movie theater watching Force Majeure, a movie set in the French Alps that features a life-changing avalanche. But Force Majeure is no traditional action thriller. A winner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Force Majeure is instead a devastating closeup of a damaged marriage.
In the movie, rather than burying people, the avalanche serves to unearth the discontents of a wealthy Swedish family trying to enjoy a holiday together. It brings up issues of gender roles, freedom and responsibility, and moral values. After the incident, the couple grapples with their shame, disappointment, and fear for the emotional safety of their children.
The term “force majeure” is a legal concept whereby the obligations of both parties to a contract are nullified by, among other things, “acts of God.” In the film, one party temporarily abnegates responsibility in the event of the avalanche.
The snow in Force Majeure is almost another character. The forbidding walls of white loom over the little ski village where the family is staying. Rather than creating a feel of wonder, the Alps possess a smothering claustrophobia that deepens the viewer’s discomfort and even dread.
I have seen reviews of Force Majeure that refer to it as a comedy. True, there are some very funny moments. But the main thrust of the film is dark and serious. I recalled the early years in my own marriage, when the bloom was off the rose and we grappled with our real limitations as partners, parents, and people.
Here in Chicago we are dodging this first big snowstorm of the impending winter. Still, in the oft-quoted line from Game of Thrones, it is all too clear that “winter is coming.”
Since the weather outside is turning frightful, I highly recommend curling up inside and watching a good movie like Force Majeure.