Cast: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Running time: 120 mins
Rating: PG (coarse language) In English and Swedish with English subtitles
Verdict: Masterful drama of a marriage in sudden crisis
A searching examination of middle-class complacency and gender roles in an age of us-or-them individualism, this assured Swedish drama is the kind of film that's hard to watch and harder still to tear your eyes away from.
It has something of the pitiless gaze of Michael Haneke, a Hitchcockian command of suspense and a bravely ambiguous ending that is likely - be warned; this may not be an ideal date movie - to provoke arguments between couples on the way home.
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It's a disaster movie, of a sort, although no one dies, but plenty of damage is inflicted. Kongsli and Kuhnke play Ebba and Tomas, a Swedish yuppie couple who have taken their kids to a French ski resort on a holiday that is in part an attempt at quality family time.
Director Ostlund and cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel make the mountain landscape at once eerily beautiful and quietly menacing - but the menace becomes more than lurking when an avalanche appears to be headed straight for the cafe balcony where the family is having lunch. As disaster looms, Ebba gathers the children; Tomas grabs his cellphone and bolts. It all happens so fast that it's easy to miss, but Ebba doesn't and the rest of the film anatomises it with a precise hindsight, as the shockwaves of the event set off reverberations that continue to increase in intensity. We soon find ourselves in the midst of a much larger story about the nature of masculinity, marriage and what it is to be human.
Long and loaded silences alternate with explosions of raw emotion and Ostlund observes what happens with an almost zoological detachment that lends the human dimension of what's occurring, in particular to the children, an almost knuckle-whitening intensity.
A late scene seems to threaten a glib resolution, but Ostlund is alive to the baffling ambiguities of his scenario and delivers a finale that is a masterstroke of understatement, all the while underlining the question at the heart of his excellent drama: can we ever know another human being, or, for that matter, ourselves? Highly recommended.
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