Blog Directory CineVerse

An empress on the outs

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Palace intrigue pictures and period costume dramas have entertained audiences for generations. A recent standout in this subgenre is Farewell, My Queen, which uses the last days of the French monarchy as a backdrop for a tale about a commoner determined to serve her endangered queen Marie Antoinette. This film got the CineVerse treatment last week, with numerous opinions given and observations made during our group discussion (which you can listen to here). Here’s a summary of our conversation:

What did you find notable, unexpected, distinctive, or satisfying about Farewell, My Queen?

  • The setting is the start of the French Revolution, but we aren’t shown any beheadings or violence. For that matter, the story is entirely told from the perspective of the queen’s faithful servants, particularly her reader Sidonie.
  • This is not a story about Marie Antoinette – it’s about one of her servants and the way that monarchs use their power, and the access they grant to that power, to create a hierarchical structure in which power dynamics can shift depending on how close you are to the king or queen.
  • Also, this is not an action narrative: it’s a reaction narrative, in which suspense and intrigue are built by following the reactions of the queen’s servants to an impending revolution.
  • The camera seems to be voyeuristically prowling about, as evidenced by how it follows Sidonie around (often from behind) and lingers on bustiers, cleavage, and naked bodies. While it’s doubtful that the filmmakers were trying to be prurient and exploitative, the way the lens focuses on the female form suggests perhaps that this is a male-dominated society in which females were treated as objects.

Themes at work

  • The contrast between the haves and have-nots. Farewell, My Queen depicts the opulence and decadence of the royal household versus the grimy, tainted banality of the commoners’ and peons’ habitats. We see the power, privilege, and wealth that the monarchy commands compared to the relative lack of agency, freedom, and resources that the Queen’s subjects possess.
    • Slant magazine’s Jesse Cataldo wrote: “Control is the operative element in Benoît Jacquot’s work, with the main caveat being that when someone has it, someone else does not. This prevailing concept sets the stage for detailed examinations of interpersonal power dynamics, presented as games or struggles, with an acute eye toward the roles and responsibilities of women.”
    • Likewise, we see imagery and hear evidence of vermin and pests like rats, mosquitoes, and spiders representing the inability of the royal household to remain pure, clean, and unblemished and signifying impending doom and decay.
  • Running out of time. We know from the dates given that it’s only a matter of time before heads will roll and the monarchy comes crashing down in France. This film depicts a handful of days that lead up to those monumental events, and the predominant symbol at work is the royal clock lent to Sidonie; once that clock is stolen, order and structure begin to collapse and the countdown to the end of an era for the royalty and its court begins. The takeaway? Nothing lasts forever, especially something created by human beings, who are fallible and impermanent.
  • The secret lives of women both powerful and unpowerful in a world controlled by men. Farewell, My Queen features predominantly female characters, shining a spotlight on the private passions, proclivities, and lifestyles of women just prior to the French Revolution. Interestingly, Sidonie begins the film as a servant but ends it as a survivor, outliving her female counterparts. Consider, also, that Sidonie appears to have a young crush on the queen and demonstrates her undying fealty to Marie Antoinette.

Similar works

  • Previous films about or featuring Marie Antoinette as a character, including Madame Du Barry (1934), Marie Antoinette (1938), and The Affair of the Necklace (2001), and Marie Antoinette (2006)
  • A Royal Affair (2012)
  • The Duchess (2008)
  • The Girl King (2015)
  • The Favourite (2018)
  • The Lady and the Duke (2001)
  • The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Other works by Benoit Jacquot

  • La Désenchantée
  • A Single Girl
  • Deep In the Woods
  • Three Hearts
  • Diary of a Chambermaid

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Dark Star: a dark horse but lightweight sci-fi

Monday, July 12, 2021

Sandwiched uncomfortably between the chasm that was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Star Wars (1977), John Carpenter’s fledgling directorial debut Dark Star attempts to put a comedic touch on previous Kubrickian ideas while also foreshadowing the blue-collar space truckin’ sensibilities of Alien. It’s a bit of a cosmic mess, and the low-tech visual effects, amateurish acting, and abrupt tonal shifts do little to improve matters. Still, Dark Star is a film rippling with interesting ideas, imagery, and memorable bits that will be explored in later genre pictures. Our CineVerse band took a test flight last week and came away with the following impressions (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here):


Similar works

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Star Trek
  • THX 1138, which also began as a student film
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Ray Bradbury’s short story Kaleidoscope
  • Alien
  • Star Wars
  • Moon
  • Sci-fi comedies like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Spaceballs

What did you find unexpected, distinctive, or surprising about Dark Star?

  • This looks to be just a few rungs above a student film on the production value, acting, and screenplay scale. Filmmakers John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon began this production as a short while they were college students; they were given more money by a producer to add more scenes and pad out the length to feature film runtime, with a final budget clocking in at around $60,000. Despite this paltry price tag, the collaborators were able to accomplish some impressive feats, even for 1974 film standards and special effects expectations.
  • The influences here are obvious (especially Kubrick works), but Dark Star also would have inspired Star Wars, Alien, and subsequent sci-fil films, especially with its depiction of traveling through hyperspace and its notion of an escaped alien loose on the ship wreaking havoc.
  • This is a rare work of sci-fi comedy. On its surface, this seems to be a sobering drama, but quickly we pick up comedic sensibilities, jokes, and humorous bits, which makes it easier to accept the budgetary and visual effect shortcomings.

Themes at work

  • Existentialism (exploring the nature of the human condition and existence), epistemology (investigating what distinguishes justified belief from opinion), and applied philosophy (like Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”). Doolittle arguing with a sentiment bomb capable of artificial intelligence, trying to dissuade it from detonating based on logic, serves as a spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its exploration of AI’s ability to surpass humans.
  • Ennui, regardless of the setting or milieu. Director John Carpenter described this story as “Waiting for Godot in space,” and “truck drivers in space.” These are everyday, blue-collar Joes who have grown bored with their mission, despite its huge significance and the grandiosity of their surroundings. This isn’t some noble quest or giant leap for mankind; these are clock-punchers hired to pave a clear path on the cosmic superhighway.
  • Cosmic irony. Having to rationalize and debate philosophical notions with a sentient but stubborn bomb, destroying rather than exploring new worlds in a routine of mindless violence, being millions of miles from Earth without toilet paper, and getting humiliated and outfoxed by a silly extraterrestrial gasbag of a pet are among the sardonic statements being made by the filmmakers, who seem intent to de-glamorize the supposed allure and prestige of space travel.
  • The inability to escape our inherent human condition. It is in our nature as humans to destroy things, argue, fight, become bored and complacent, take things for granted, and abuse or neglect what we regard as lower life forms.
  • The hard work required to achieve rugged individualism. Slant Magazine reviewer Simon Abrams wrote: “The fact that there’s no logical way to not emotionally malfunction aboard the Dark Star speaks to the film’s central egocentrism: everybody has to do everything themselves, even the Smart Bomb that obliterates the ship after it reasons that it is, in fact, God: ‘The only thing that exists is My Self’…Dark Star remains one of the best expressions of that quest for personal freedom because it was principally created by two artists that define themselves by their own fierce intellect and staunch individualism.”

Other films by John Carpenter

  • Halloween
  • Escape From New York
  • The Thing
  • Starman
  • They Live
  • In the Mouth of Madness

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75 years of the best lives (and a great film)

Monday, July 5, 2021

William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives, released in 1946, took home Oscar gold for Best Picture, preventing It's a Wonderful Life from claiming a wonderful prize. But if you're going to lose out to another picture at the Academy Awards, you could do a lot worse than be bested by this William Wyler classic, probably the best cinematic story ever told about soldiers and veterans returning home from wartime. CineVerse did its patriotic duty this past Independence Day week by examining this movie. Here's a recap of our group discussion (to listen to a recording of it, click here).

How would this film have been perceived as groundbreaking and perhaps controversial upon its release in post-World War II 1946?

  • It addressed, for the first time in an American feature film, the sensitive cultural, social, and psychological issues faced by returning veterans and their families.
    • These issues include adultery, alcoholism, ostracism, unemployment, callous corporate practices, a hostile work environment, and problems in a marriage that appear perfect on the surface.
  • It’s fascinating to hear Al’s son talk about the threat of nuclear annihilation and the start of the Cold War; this would have been one of the first Hollywood films to do so.
  • The Best Years of Our Lives notably also uses a disabled man (in this case, Harold Russell, an amputee with no professional acting background) to poignantly tell its story—and without relying on circus sideshow sensationalism or exaggerated dramatic effect.
  • This was nearly twice the length of average movies at the time—a runtime that risked losing audience interest. There is also no intermission.
  • Framed within the context of World War II and its aftermath, the movie avoids using any flashback combat scenes or action; it’s purely a human drama about real-life issues.
  • In making this motion picture, with three diverging narratives about veterans adjusting to postwar life at home, the filmmakers were taking a big risk; that’s because the Hollywood studios thought viewers were tired of movies about the war by this time. But The Best Years of Our Lives went on to become the highest-grossing movie of the entire 1940s, proving that audiences emotionally connected with these stories and appreciated the issues and characters explored.

Master cinematographer Gregg Toland, famous for his camera work on Citizen Kane, employed deep focus photography throughout the movie. Can you cite a few examples of this technique in the film and why the use of deep focus was the right choice for those scenes?

  • Al’s homecoming to his wife and kids: Framed within the deep hallway, we see him embrace his son, daughter, and then his wife at a distance without employing any cuts.
  • Fred’s important phone call from the bar: presented as a background detail with Homer and Butch playing piano in the extreme foreground—with no cuts or camera movement.
  • The marriage ceremony: We observe two parallel lines of action (Homer and Wilma, Fred and Peggy) on opposite sides of the room, which creates emotional distance yet longing.
  • The filmmakers also utilize deep focus and long takes instead of cutting to medium shots or close-ups that normally break up a scene; this strategy allows many scenes to unfold organically and enables the performers to show their acting chops.

How do you interpret the movie’s title? Is it an ironic or cynical comment, or is it sincere and hopeful?

  • It could be referring to the possibility that many veterans had to give “the best years of their lives” to the military and our cause in WWII.
  • Or, it could be referring to the possibility that the best years of the servicemen’s lives were during wartime, and they experienced more challenging times of a different kind when they returned home.
  • Possibly it's suggesting that the veterans' best years are ahead of them.

Similar films

  • Coming Home
  • Home of the Brave
  • Born on the 4th of July
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Heroes
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Forrest Gump

Other films by William Wyler

  • Wuthering Heights
  • Jezebel
  • The Westerner
  • Mrs. Miniver
  • Roman Holiday
  • Ben-Hur

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CineVerse moderator makes another appearance on Monster Kid Radio

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Your friendly neighborhood CineVerse moderator, Erik Martin, made another guest appearance on a podcast recently. This time, it was a return visit to Monster Kid Radio, a show that celebrates classic horror films of yesteryear. Erik and podcast host Derek Koch engage in a deep discussion of Fritz Lang's timeless masterwork "M," starring Peter Lorre.

To hear this podcast episode, click here.

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Speaking the universal language of loss and love

Monday, June 28, 2021

We can usually sniff out cloying, over-dramatized, sentimentalized, and implausible family dynamics in movies pretty easily, as these bad filmmaker habits unfortunately persist. That’s why it’s refreshing to experience a picture like Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, which depicts the universality of navigating troublesome familial terrain with such admirable dexterity. CineVerse had the pleasure of parsing through this film two weeks ago (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here), and a précis of our conversation follows.

What did you find revelatory, refreshing, remarkable, or original about The Farewell?

  • It isn’t afraid to tackle a thorny topic like death and family grief with sincerity and realism (evoked from the personal experiences of the director and her grandmother, whose cancer diagnosis was hidden from the grandmother by the director’s extended family) but also with humor and grace. Ponder how, despite being a three-hanky-type movie, there are several comical scenes and funny bits.
    • Movie reviewer James Berardinelli wrote: “It’s probably strange to call a movie about illness and death a ‘feel-good experience,’ but Wang has pitched the film perfectly in this regard. Movies about cancer almost always involve chemotherapy and suffering. Movies about death are often suffused with grief and sorrow. The Farewell eschews those genre tropes and instead focuses on existential issues while being honest about the characters, their situations, and their reality. The end result is life-affirming and the average viewer is likely to leave the film feeling uplifted.”
    • Film critic Christy Lemire wrote” In sharing her story with us, Wang achieves a masterful tonal balance throughout “The Farewell.” She’s made a film about death that’s light on its feet and never mawkish. She’s told a story about cultural clashes without ever leaning on wacky stereotypes or lazy clichés. She finds a variety of moments for her actors to shine within a large ensemble cast. And she’s pulled off one of the most perfect endings you’ll ever see.”
  • The filmmakers don’t seem to have an agenda here; they appear to be telling the story without bias, preachiness, or judgment about whether Eastern values or Western values should take priority; the film isn’t casting aspersions about “sins of the father visited upon his child,” or trying to play into the paradigm that each subsequent generation improves upon the one before it. Even less sympathetic characters like Billi’s mother are given well-rounded treatment (we later see her mother tearing up after they bid farewell to Nai Nai, for instance).
  • There is a possibility that Nai Nai figures out that she has cancer but has decided to not talk about it. Consider that she also obscured the truth about her husband’s terminal cancer from him, and she appears to be sharp and observant.
  • The film opens with an ironic disclaimer: “Based on an actual lie.” These words run contrary to what we have come to expect from films that instead start with the words: “Based on a true story.” By bookending the movie with these words and, at the conclusion, footage of the director’s real-life grandma (who survived her bout with cancer), we benefit from more intimate and honest storytelling, entrusting Lulu Wang and her collaborators to give us some truth about their real-life experiences.

Themes woven into The Farewell

  • Bridging cultural and generational divides. Billi serves as a surrogate for the audience, our guide on this journey between three generations, two cultures (East versus West), and two countries, America and China, which she has both called home at one point. Billi’s return to the homeland of her birth results in culture shock, as she sees how much things have changed in China since she was a child, yet she’s happy to be reuniting with her extended family – although not under the best circumstances.
    • Interestingly, the filmmakers have characters who speak and sing in both Mandarin and English and use Chinese-performed covers of American songs.
  • The morality of whether it’s better to lie and spare someone from worry and suffering or tell them the truth, which they have a right to know. The movie challenges you to ask yourself: What would you do in this situation if you were Billi?
  • Coming to grips with our mortality and the unavoidability of loss and grief.
  • Reconciling the present with the past. Billi is wistful about her childhood memories of her grandmother and living in China. But she has to accept that time has moved on and her grandmother isn’t always going to be there for her.

Similar films

  • Ikiru
  • 50/50
  • Tuesdays With Morrie
  • Terms of Endearment
  • The Bucket List

Other films by Lulu Wang

  • Posthumous

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Still Jonesing for adventure 4 decades later

Thursday, June 17, 2021

In Cineversary podcast episode #36, host Erik Martin is joined by James Kendrick, Baylor University film professor and author of Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the greatest action/adventure movie of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Together, Erik and James explore deep and dark caves, pits, tombs, and catacombs of conversation in their analysis of Raiders, examining why the film is worth celebrating all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the film in 2021, and more. 
James Kendrick

To listen to this episode, click here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyGoogle PodcastsBreakerCastboxPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublic, and Overcast.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at anchor.fm/cineversary and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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"Room" for improvement

Monday, June 14, 2021

Widely regarded as one of the biggest cinematic turkeys of all time, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has become a cult hit and midnight movie favorite over the past several years. Interestingly, it spawned a biopic directed by and starring James Franco called The Disaster Artist that serves as a nice companion piece to The Room and a not-so-distant cousin to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood biopic from 1994.

The CineVerse stalwarts parsed through both of the former films last week and found the exercise a real hoot (to listen to our group discussion, click here), choosing to frame our conversation less around the merits of these two movies and more on the pleasures of “so-bad-they’re good” flicks. Here’s a roundup of some of our talking points.
 

What was unexpected, surprising, memorable, or distinctive about The Disaster Artist?

  • James Franco directed this film and stars opposite his brother Dave (who plays Greg). In fact, James Franco has helmed 16 other features and short films.
  • There are many cameos, celebrity appearances, and big names in small parts within The Disaster Artist, including by Seth Rogan, Judd Apatow, Kristen Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Adam Scott, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Cranston, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, and Bob Odenkirk.
  • Interestingly, the film provides a prologue (of real filmmakers and actors talking about The Room) and an epilogue (shot-for-shot comparisons of The Room vs. The Disaster Artist).
  • This was not an unauthorized biopic. Wiseau himself approved of this movie.
  • While most of this film depicts the actual making of The Room and constitutes much of the comedy of The Disaster Artist, the heart of this picture is the relationship explored between Tommy and Greg and the extent to which their success and happiness or lack thereof are intertwined.
  • This is another modern example of a meta film (a film about a film).

Similar films

  • Ed Wood
  • Bowfinger
  • Living in Oblivion
  • Dolemite Is My Name
  • The Producers
  • Best F(R)Iends

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The wheel deal

Monday, June 7, 2021


Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves never ages, never overstays its welcome, never fails to hit a bullseye in the center of the chest. These qualities are a testament to the unimpeachable quality of a film consistently voted one of the very finest ever made, one ripe for rediscovery every few years.

Our CineVerse group gripped the handlebars and took a ride on this 73-year-old movie last week, and we found that it was just like riding a bike—you simply don’t forget how to enjoy a timeless classic. An outline of our discussion points is found below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here; to listen to a Cineversary podcast episode celebrating this picture’s 70th birthday, click here).

What did you find interesting, memorable, distinctive, or different about Bicycle Thieves?

  • There is not much action or plot: This is a very simple but effective narrative that evokes a strong emotional reaction in viewers primarily from its visual poetry and nonverbal storytelling.
  • The actors playing the father and son, as well as nearly everyone else in the cast, are not professionals—these are just everyday people. Yet, marvel at how expressive their faces are and how natural their acting—or nonacting, in this case—is.
  • The character of the stalwart and compassionate Bruno, the son, and what we see him observe and react to, is what helps lend the film extra power and resonance.
  • The picture attempts to make a political statement—that we should be more concerned with our fellow man and that a fairer political system should exist that provides greater opportunities to everyday people. Yet the film is not so much about the hardships of poverty or the quest to reclaim a stolen bike but rather the relationship between a father and his boy.
    • Ultimately, Bicycle Thieves succeeds and impacts us so strongly because we identify and sympathize with Antonio and Bruno, even though they don’t overemote or speechify. We see them as they truly are, and it is their behavior and unspoken actions that inform us about them. Antonio is taken down a peg in front of his son, which is heartbreaking and universally appreciated, regardless of the time, place, or ethnicity.

What elements of Italian neorealism are prevalent in Bicycle Thieves?

  • Like earlier films in the Italian neorealism subgenre, this picture is shot in near documentary style, on location and often using nonfactors/nonprofessionals.
  • The subjects are typically working-class people and the impoverished.
  • The messages of neorealism films are often bleak, realistic, and plausibly pessimistic—without any sentimentalizing, glossy coating, or tacked-on happy endings. These films don’t give us black and white, good vs. evil tropes: even the young bicycle thief himself is depicted as the victim of poverty and a corrupt, unjust, and misery-inducing political system, and his family defends him.
  • There is a deliberate focus away from big-name stars, complex psychological themes and issues, and intricate plots and action.
  • This film attempts to depict true poverty and economic hardship as it really was in one city at a given time in history: postwar Rome in 1948, which had been physically and economically decimated following the war.
  • Bicycle Thieves is consistent and believable in its approach to realism: There is no contrived happy ending or resolution, and bad things happen to good people. What a great gift that is—the truth.
  • To put the film in proper context, consider that Americans didn’t often get to view pictures about poor people in this clear and close a focus before; even films made during and set in the Great Depression often softened the blow when impoverished characters were showcased, and almost always a happy denouement was included.
    • Charles Burnett, essayist for the Criterion Collection version of this film, wrote: “I was moved by how ordinary people were able to express so much humanity. The story achieved in very simple terms what I was looking to do in film: humanize those watching. (It) has the quality and intention of a documentary. It is totally unromantic. The characters are just ordinary people, and the film gives the impression you are watching life unfold before you. It is entertaining, but that is not the goal. Its goal is to make audiences aware of a particular social condition that needs a political solution. It is clear that it was made as a tool for change.”

What themes or messages are explored in Bicycle Thieves?

  • The power of family unity and love over materialism, capitalism, and suffering.
  • The search for hope and faith (not necessarily religious faith, but perhaps faith in humanity) in a world that seems faithless; consider that Antonio is hunting for a Fides bicycle, with the word “Fides” meaning “faith” in Italian.
  • Social conscience: It’s our duty as neighbors, acquaintances, citizens, and even bystanders to help our fellow human, regardless of his or her social stature.
  • Class struggle: This is a film about the division and disparity among social classes. We are shown how the working poor and bourgeois coexist.

Similar films

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Rome, Open City
  • Germany Year Zero
  • Furrows
  • Pather Pachali
  • Nights of Cabiria
  • The 400 Blows
  • Films with cities featured as a major character, including Wings of Desire and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City
  • Children of Heaven
  • Rockers
  • Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  • Children of Heaven
  • Life is Beautiful
  • Beijing Bicycle
  • Kid With a Bike

Other works by De Sica

  • Shoeshine
  • Umberto D
  • The Earrings of Madame de…
  • Two Women

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A marital mess snowballing out of control

Monday, May 31, 2021

Some films make great date movies you can enjoy with your significant other. Force Majeure is not one of them. That’s because what you see unfold between the husband and wife in this story could easily be applied as a “what-if” scenario to your relationship, causing your partner to possibly question what you would do in the same situation. Nevertheless, Force Majeure, directed and written by Ruben Östlund, makes for great debate and a terrific picture to discuss in a group context, as our CineVerse club did last week (click here for a recording of our group chat). Here’s a summary of our talking points:

What struck you as interesting, unique, or memorable about this movie?

  • Tonally, it intricately shifts between heavy and ponderous drama and biting satire, forcing us to often laugh at and not necessarily empathize or connect with these characters.
    • Slant critic Abhimanyu Das wrote: “Despite the weight of the philosophical questions being pondered, Östlund and his cast also display the ability to mine comedy from the unlikeliest corners. Force Majeure is as sustained an exercise in cringe-inducing humor as anything produced by Larry David or Ricky Gervais, and arguably more controlled, turning on a dime between exquisitely calibrated laughs and unsettling emotional violence. Heated exchanges are abruptly rendered hilarious by cutting away to a reaction shot or by a change in the participants’ emotional register. A stony-faced janitor appears at the most inopportune moments to witness, gargoyle-like, some of the characters’ more hysterical outbursts.”
  • The filmmakers opt for interesting approaches. For example, they often show the characters and their arguments either from a far distance or intimately close; the avalanche scene is a continuous 4 ½ minute take without edits and framed from a distance so that it doesn’t draw attention to the father’s actions; the camera doesn’t look away from characters during tense or uncomfortable scenes, forcing us to linger on cringeworthy moments. The filmmakers don’t seem to be picking a side here; instead, we are allowed to draw our own conclusions about these characters and the controversy.
  • Also, the story is segmented into acts separated by title cards that indicate the day of the trip, stirring Vivaldi strings are heard sporadically throughout the film, and interspersed exterior shots of the stark wilderness – all adding portentousness and creating a sense of foreboding. These techniques create an ironic effect when you consider that no one dies or is even physically hurt and this relationship challenge is presumably salvageable.
  • The director said that this movie was inspired by an incident in which a Swedish couple – his friends – vacationed in Latin America; the duo was having dinner when gunmen burst into the restaurant and began firing. Instead of protecting his spouse, the husband ducked for cover. The shocked wife couldn’t let this failure go, proceeding to retell the tale to her friends time and again. Östlund later researched couples who survived disasters like shipwrecks and tsunamis and discovered that a high proportion of these partners end up divorcing.

Themes crafted into Force Majeure

  • Gender role reversals and expectations. Thomas seemingly acts contrary to expected masculine and macho ways, and Ebba demonstrates that she doesn’t always play the role of the protective matriarch or polite female stranger. Likewise, her friend Charlotte proves to be a promiscuous player like many would expect a man would be.
  • What does it mean to be a man and to exhibit masculinity in the modern age? Thomas and Mats are continually emasculated and forced to question their manhood, sex appeal, and motivations. This film explores the gap between what men project and assume about themselves and their true natures. The movie suggests that most men are inherently flawed because they try too hard to live up to an idealized standard and won’t be honest with themselves and others about their faults.
  • Relationships can be a catastrophe waiting to happen. Much like an avalanche that can snowball out of control, a flawed marriage or relationship built on shaky grounds can crumble suddenly or at least prove seriously vulnerable.
  • “The clash between our attempts to control nature, whether of landscapes or feelings, and the inevitability with which the world, and our own fallibility, confound and leave a stranded,” according to Jonathan Romney, film critic with The Guardian.
  • The picture also challenges the audience by asking: What would you do in this situation? What are you capable of in a crisis? Would you protect your loved ones during a catastrophe? Would you question and doubt your partner if they didn’t live up to your expectations? Would you deny any culpability? What should happen when one partner spectacularly flops in his or her obligations to his family and children and subsequently can’t acknowledge his or her failure?

Similar works

  • The Shining
  • The Loneliest Planet
  • Films by Michael Haneke, including Hidden, Funny Games, White Ribbon, and Amour
  • Films by Ingmar Bergman, including Scenes From a Marriage, that also suggest the “silence of God”
  • Downhill
  • Perfect Strangers
  • The Vanishing

Other films by Ruben Ostlund

  • Involuntary
  • Play
  • The Square
  • Triangle of Sadness

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