An avalanche approaches a docile group of lunching tourists. It's controlled, one man assures his family, but terror gradually mounts and he runs away in terror while his wife huddles protectively over their two children in a few seconds that dominates the rest of 2014's Force Majeure (Turist), a good film of quiet, sinister psychology.
It turns out there was no danger. The avalanche stopped before reaching the building, it was only a fog that enveloped the veranda. The family resumes their seats. But there's a wedge now in the minds of the parents and the children they can't explain to themselves. The children sullenly demand to be left alone with their video games back in the hotel room.
More serious, though, is their mother's reaction. Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) seems upset to her husband, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), when they go skiing the next day but Ebba won't admit to Tomas that she is upset and may not be aware of it herself.
The trouble really gains steam when the couple has dinner with some friends and, at first describing the experience casually, Ebba becomes obsessed with the fact that Tomas claims to have no memory of running away from her and the children.
Does Ebba resent him for being a coward? Is it that he's not who she thought he was? Is he who he thought he was? Their feelings manifest in different ways. Ebba angrily interrogates a friend who is in an open marriage as to how she can engage in such a foolhardy lifestyle as though fidelity has become a principle that Ebba now has to defend to the bitter end. She undresses in the bathroom later and seems to completely ignore her husband's lustful looks and it's clear she's no longer sexually attracted to him.
Director Ruben Ostlund uses a lot of subtle blocking and composition to establish this tense, subtly fractured relationship. I particularly liked another dinner scene where the pair have another friend, Mats (Kristofer Hivju), and his young girlfiend, Fanni (Fanni Metelius), over to their room for dinner. After a few scenes earlier where Ebba and Tomas had agreed to the simple story that there was an avalanche but they ended up coming out of the experience safely, Ebba now seems to overshadow the dinner. Her voice is nervous and she's mostly kept just out of frame during the trivial conversations before taking centre frame with her back to the audience, a dark silhouette dominating the image since the light is in front of her.
She finally breaks down and tells the story again, beginning awkwardly in the middle of another conversation. Again she tells how Tomas ran away and the camera carefully avoids putting Tomas and Ebba in the same frame.
It spends a lot of time on Ebba with the two friends and then cuts to Tomas isolated, and holds on him a long time, cutting to Mats and Fanni and leaving Ebba as a disembodied voice for a while. Then everyone invades Tomas' frame when Ebba shows the footage on Tomas' camera clearly showing he ran away.
Not all of the movie works. A scene where Tomas and Mats go skiing together feels artificial and the final scene doesn't ring true for the characters. But for the most part, this is a very nice, very subtle character film.