Ruben Ostlund is a Force Majeure

A man and woman attempt a typical vacation : a ski trip in the French Alps with their two young children. The goal is to bring the family–particularly the man and woman–closer together. Sitting at an outdoor restaurant at their chosen ski resort, a “controlled avalanche” occurs. First amazed, then terrified, the man flees from his family to safety. In the aftermath of these events, the woman debates the security of their relationship, her family and the roles of “husband and wife”– particularly a man’s societal roles and expectations versus the reality of nature’s survival instinct.

We sat down with director Ruben Ostlund to discuss Force Majeure, the new film that delves into the emotional aftermath of a near disaster.

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How did you conceive of the idea for this film?

When I was around 20-25, I was filming skiing. I was really interested in skiing so I spent a lot of time in ski resorts. I was a skier before I was a filmmaker but I had started to make ski films.

I think I have been interested for a long time to get back into that environment and use the absurdity of that environment.

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Why do you find that environment absurd?

Because it’s a struggle between man and nature and yet, you see the modern ski resort—the way it looks—it’s like a ghetto they just place into the wild nature. And in this place, there’s a struggle between civilized and uncivilized, the force of nature that humans are trying to control. We’re putting up fences to stabilize the snow, we’re blowing avalanches, we’re grooming tracks and all those lifts going upside down the mountainside? It’s almost like a science fiction environment and the way that people are dressed in those neon colors and mirrored lenses…

So, I wanted to use that in some way and also to put that environment into a film that isn’t a genre film. It’s quite hard because it’s quite hard to find something that is existential and interesting enough to take place on a ski resort. All those well-to-do people that are in total control of their lives. When the idea of the avalanche came up, that was the key point that told me I could make a film in a ski resort.

I didn’t realize that controlled avalanches were a thing. They really do that?

A controlled avalanche is something I had never heard of. But, they do it. They just don’t call it “controlled.” Instead, they are securing the area. Mainly they do these early morning before they open the ski system. “Avalanche” in Spanish is also a metaphor for a great force that could be emotional- so the avalanche is something that happens in the family (in the film) afterwards, as well.

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Is that immediately where your mind went when you thought of the concept of the avalanche? To use it as an emotional trigger?

No. I was inspired by a Youtube clip in the beginning. There was a group of tourists sitting in an outdoor restaurant and watching the avalanche coming down. What I was very fascinated by was that, within three seconds, the emotions went from joyful sharing to screaming to panic. I always think that’s very humoristic even though its very tragic.

Life is that way, I think. It’s a tragic-comedy. It has a tragic ending–we know that–but the most tragic moments have absurd humor in them.

And what I really, really love about the avalanche of course is that in the case of the emergency, the catastrophe never happened. And they have to deal with the aftermath of their behavior. It’s a “brain-ghost;” a problem that is created because of culture and society and expectations.

In the press notes for the screening, you included the press notes for the MS Estonia disaster of 1994. The men had a higher rate of survival than the women.

I think the most reproduced male character in film history is the hero. It’s like every catastrophe that happens, we are so eager to bring out the hero examples. But 99% of the people that have been in a catastrophe and survived have to act selfishly to survive. That’s why it’s so hard to talk about it because they have guilt and it’s not guilt about surviving; it’s about how you survive. You are making yourself the survivor and someone else the victim. When you look at the ferry catastrophe statistics, you can tell that men have the ability to act selfishly. Even though culture has taught us that we should be “heroes.”

text by: Hillary Sproul

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