Editorial: All the Comfort in the World, No Compassion

Yohannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli in ”Force Majeure”, 2014 | BLS Business Location Südtirol-Alto Adige, Beofilm


The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema

Back in 2014, one of my favourite films of the year was Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure. I wrote about it at the time, after it premiered at Cannes, and I have watched it again recently, before they release the American remake, titled Downhill, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in the lead roles. Because why should Hollywood come up with something original when they have a recipe for a successful film to replicate and reap the benefits domestically? Especially that it will be in English, so that the wide American public won’t even have to bother with the subtitles.

Will it however reach the sharp dry tone and multilayered story of Force Majeure? I doubt it. The American version will probably be one more obviously comedic, with appeal to the larger public, thus losing the subtlety of an incisive portrayal of a privileged modern-day family and lifestyle. The darkly comedic Swedish drama unfolds as a Swedish family travels to the French Alps for a five-day skiing holiday. During a lunch at the resort’s rooftop restaurant, an avalanche risks everyone’s lives and turns everything upside down, after Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), the mother, desperately tries to protect the two children, while Tomas (Yohannes Kuhnke), the father, grabs his cell phone and runs for his life. It is a great satire, about a family shaken to its core, with a well written screenplay, beautiful cinematography capturing the alien nature, the alienation of the contemporary-world human, and the contrast between nature and man trying to control the force of nature. The film is a great character study, benefitting from great acting, especially of the two main actors (there is so much drama and emotion happening on the faces of Ebba and Tomas), and sometimes wickedly funny, without diminishing the permanent anxiety hovering over though, as if you are expecting another dramatic thing to happen any moment.

The film looks at human behaviour from the point of view of a family in crisis, but it questions in fact the self-centered interests of an entire Western society. In an interview for Film Comment at the time of the film’s release, the director said: “But this kind of lifestyle – I mean, just look at the electronic toothbrush. We’ve reached a level of comfort, and we’re allowing ourselves to let relationship problems be the main focus of our lives. I think that that kind of lifestyle is silly, and we have to look at those problems from a realistic perspective – this isn’t something that we should put all our strength into. Shouldn’t being at that socioeconomic level make us think: “How do we change other people’s situations? How do we fight for other people’s rights? How do we deal with extreme poverty in other parts of the world?” But Western society, and the whole culture that we are basing our society on, is telling us that we are allowed to put all our effort into relationship problems.”

Ruben Östlund’s words distill very well not only the idea of the film, but one of the greatest flaws of our society. Everyone has become so selfish, so absorbed with one’s own well-being – and we can extend that to one’s own family, one’s own business (“I don’t know how my friends are because all they talk about when we meet is how busy they are,” someone was saying and how frightfully right she is), even one’s Western world – that nobody cares about anybody and anything else anymore, let alone the world at large. Just because we are not policy makers doesn’t mean we are not individually accountable for anything but ourselves. We have reached a point where none of us can be just a teacher, or a photographer, or a writer, or a doctor, or a parent anymore. We have to care more about one another and about the world we live in, we have to finally take action against our decades-long carelessness and neglect towards the one next to us, towards the less fortunate, towards our surroundings. We take everything for granted (like those electronic toothbrushes in the film), we are all expecting grand gestures from others and do nothing in return. There is too much of everything and yet we produce more, we want more of everything, more comfort for our lives so that we can feel fulfilled, and that’s it, that’s where it stops, with personal welfare and professional accomplishments. We have forgotten to be human (human as in Force Majeure at the end when the people feel connected as they are all walking together on the road). We should start with being kinder to one another and to our world.

I don’t think the American sense of humour has all the nuances capable of capturing and transmitting this kind of message.

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