© 2014 by James Clark
Bear with me for a moment, in embarking upon Ruben Ostlund’s mountain of domestic and individual anguish, Force Majeure (2014), by way of Marguerite Duras’ novella, The Lover (1984). The latter’s opening salvo, wherein the Speaker gets under our skin fast by way of an account of her own physiognomy, can blaze a trail to the revelatory factor of the flawlessly youthful visages (almost computer-generated) of Tomas and Ebba, the film’s protagonists.
“Very early in my life it was too late. It was already too late when I was eighteen… My ageing was very sudden. I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationship between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead. But instead of being dismayed I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book…”
Already in 1959, as screenwriter of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and far past her eighteenth birthday, Duras was intent upon those singular and difficult currents implicit in The Lover: “Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.” Writer and director Ostlund’s fascination with such kinetic ravages impels him to get things underway with Tomas, Ebba and their likewise photogenic children, Vera and Harry, fresh from Sweden to a sterling ski resort in the French Alps, being rightly prized by an itinerant photographer lurking at the base of the ski lifts. (The photos being gratis, we have to infer that the cameraman has a project in mind which they well fit into. Could it have something to do with their too-good-to-be-true, but now universal, looks? He keeps calling little Harry a “champion.” Or, “Are you a champion? [“champion coming to sound like “chumpion”]. They follow this flattering interruption with slight betrayal of already having more handsome mementos than they need. (Later Tomas will, while enjoying an après-ski beer on the sun-deck, be approached by a young woman who tells him her girlfriend thinks he’s the best-looking man in the bar. She then promptly returns to make the correction that it was another man she was referring to. With so many spa-braced perfect 10’s on the scene, such a mistake would be nearly inevitable.) “I want a beauty smile together!” Later that day Ebba shows the photos to a deep-seated skeptic about domestic cloying. (She declares she’s “on a break” from her two daughters; and her husband. Yet she plays along with Ebba’s zeal for Harry’s perfect features. “Oh, his eyes… He’s very beautiful!”)