One of the best things that can happen during a movie is for it to be about more than one subject.

Force Majeure starts out with a Swedish family on vacation in the French Alps. Everybody’s happy and content in the way that happy families are happy and content. What becomes noticeable is the grand view they have from their hotel. A view well above the tree line, the snow capped mountain peaks sticking out from the landscape like the lines on an electrocardiogram. This repeating visual appreciation of the Alps is accentuated day and night by controlled explosions the resort uses to create avalanches that are then plowed to keep the slopes in optimum skiing condition.Turist_review_-_CANNES_article_story_large

About a half-reel into Force Majeure the happy family is enjoying a meal on the terrace with other tourists and skiers when one of the controlled avalanches appears much too close for comfort. It’s a wall of loose snow 50-meters high and 100-meters wide, as a character later describes it. The snow slide breeches the walls of the hotel and the entire frame is shrouded in white for nearly a minute.

Before a total whiteout occurs we discern the figure of the father running out of the frame. As the powder starts to dissipate it turns out the avalanche was serious but posed no real danger to those on the terrace. They basically had the shit scared out of them but after dusting off their outfits they are good to go. And the father has used to confusion to wander back into the picture.

The rest of Force Majeure takes a tonal shift with an escalating battle of the wills between the husband and wife. She wants to know why he left the scene at the crucial moment and he’s in denial about leaving. Another couple gets involved during a dinner conversation and we’re allowed to scan their thoughts about the matter of responsibility and relationships. The two kids even get involved as they sense the distance of their parent’s feelings.

The dramatic action is pitch perfect, each sequence of dialogue revealing something more about the father or mother’s motivation. The dissolution of the nuclear family unit has been rarely displayed as in Force Majeure. Ruben Östland writes and directs. Force Majeure opens exclusively this weekend at the Sundance Cinemas Houston.

— Michael Bergeron