Force Majeure, medium strength

The Swedish movie Force Majeure, or Turist, as it is called here in Switzerland, is a mediocre affair, but you can almost see the very good movie it has entrapped in itself. A Swedish family is on a skiing holiday in a French resort when they are sprinkled over by the fallout clouds of a controlled avalanche. While Ebba, the mother, instinctively stays to protect the two kids, Tomas, the father, runs away.

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Ebba is devastated that her husband would abandon his family in a dangerous situation, while Tomas claims he did not flee the scene. Their marriage has its first cracks, and the two kids are afraid their parents might be getting a divorce. Ebba and Tomas only very eventually broach the subject because, well, sometimes the ones closest to you cannot tell you the truth because a) they don’t want to hurt you, and b) they will have to live with the consequences their telling might bring.

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This is all very well handled, but there are scenes that are only loosely connected to that main story. There is a bit where Ebba is talking to a woman who is married while she and her hubby keep seeing other people. That scene is there because Ebba now knows that her husband is much less reliable than she would have guessed, and she is trying to find out if other people have to deal with such weakness, too. But instead of talking to that woman with her strong sense of self, Ebba could have talked to the woman’s boyfriend who is there with her at the hotel. What is it like to be the boyfriend of a married, strong-willed woman? Do you consider yourself a weak man beside a strong woman, or do you have to be just as strong to keep up? We get much less from Ebba in that scene than we should – we merely learn that she could not live in an open relationship. But we already guessed that.

There are good things in Turist, too. You might remember Kristofer Hivju from Game of Thrones because of his flaming red hair and beard and intense eyes; here, he plays Mats, the soft-spoken friend who has brought his 20-year-old girlfriend to the resort and feels he has to negotiate between Ebba and Tomas because, being divorced, he is an expert on marriage and relationships. The scenes between him and his girlfriend are very funny without breaking the ominous atmosphere of the movie’s main story. Ebba and Tomas always start their fights in the corridor where everybody can hear them, instead of fighting in their apartment in front of the kids. Another good thing are the expository scenes with the avalanche cannons and snowplows. And it is a very bold choice to play Vivaldi’s Summer over scenes of dense snow.

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The movie ends twice. Ebba goes missing in dense fog, and Tomas finds her, his masculinity half-way restored. Then the bus on the way home almost crashes on the serpentine mountain road, and they continue their journey on foot. Both scenes would have been good endings. To leave them both in there is to add unnecessary running time. Drop the ending in the fog, and drop the conversation between Ebba and the other woman, and you have a better movie.

Notes from the Zone

Nope, I haven’t handed in my nerd credentials and stopped playing computer games. As a matter of fact, I recently got a new graphics card, so I’ve been diligently playing those games that didn’t run that smoothly before the upgrade. One of the titles I’d most been looking forward to is Stalker – Shadows of Chernobyl. (Well, technically it’s called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Something of Doodah, but unless someone can tell me what the abbreviation is supposed to stand for, I refuse to use that wannabe leet name.)

There’s been a discussion about games as art for a while now. If we look at them as narrative art, then I’d agree that there are few games that tell a story that’s better, or even as good, as your average mainstreamy Hollywood genre piece. (There are exceptions, but that’s material for another entry.) What games can excel at, though, is atmosphere – and that’s what Stalker has in spades. It’s based, though loosely, on Andrei Tarkovsky’s enigmatic film of the same name (which I haven’t seen yet – shame on me!).

The game is set in the area around the radioactive wasteland surrounding the defunct nuclear reactor in Chernobyl. Stalker‘s version of the Zone is populated by lone adventurers, bandits, militia and mutated animals. It is dotted with anomalies that tend to mean your death if you wander into any one of them unawares. (There is grim fun to be had of watching packs of mutated dogs happen into an anomaly that pretty much spins them around like the cow in Twister – and then tears them apart.)

Stalker manages to be one of those games that’s greatly enjoyable but not a lot of fun, and that’s mainly down to its atmospheric setting. On my first day in the Zone, I happened across a camp that other Stalkers had made amidst rusty cars and a broken down Hind helicopter. Just as the sun set, a group of bandits attacked, and most of what I could make out were bursts of fire in the darkness and the flashlight’s circle of brightness illuminating burnt out Ladas and the occasional bandit aiming his semi-automatic at me.

In general, the nights in the Zone are tense and scary – mostly because they are actually dark. Walking towards distant lights, your flashlight barely illuminating the bushes in front of you, while you hear strange animal sounds, and suddenly a pack of dogs attacks, their eyes glinting in the dark… Definitely beats the hell (pun only semi-intended) out of Doom 3‘s predictable haunted house ride and its rubber zombies.

I’m not very far yet, but I’m looking forward to getting closer to the shut-down reactor and entering the parts of the Zone that used to be residential areas. Until then, I will continue being the bane of mutated dogs and hogs everywhere… until I run out of ammo. I run pretty fast (’till I stumble into one of those amusing anomalies and it proceeds to turn me inside out).