Food: One of my favorite spots in the East Village is Sake Bar Decibel, known for an extensive list of varietals of sake, shochu and Japanese whiskey, has been around since 1993. It is underground with a discrete stairway entry – you can only ever tell it is open when the “On Air” sign is lit. Visitors are ushered through the front room and taken through to the back, where the lights are dimmed, the walls are covered in graffiti, a maneki-neko hangs on the wall and the tables are stuffed closely together. Whether you are starting your night or staying for the long haul, this place delivers. My friend and I got a bottle of sake and edamame with the ebi shumai (5 piece shrimp dumpling). This spots Japanese punk feel is authentic and has stubbornly maintained its edge for over 25 years – a rarity with NYC restaurants. I recommend.
Film: “Force Majeure” is Ruben Östlund’s cutting marital drama, which takes place in the French alps, as a young Swedish family goes on a skiing trip and experiences an unexpected event that begins to unravel the lining of their whole family infrastructure.
The film starts as the family of four pose uncomfortably on the top of the mountain – the token photograph for every ski trip – evidence of familial togetherness! However, while at lunch the following day, right after they are served lunch, they suddenly overhear a reported warning from the top of the mountain and snow begins to hurtle down at rapid speed. It is a controlled avalanche – nothing to worry about. Until it suddenly begins to topple at what seems like an uncontrolled speed, and the entire restaurant panics and runs away. It happens quickly, but this is the most important part of the film – Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) flees the deck, leaving behind his wife and two children. The avalanche stops quickly, and everyone returns to their tables. Back to normal. Or so it would seem.
Tomas is confused by his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), seems irritated with him, and their children are on edge towards both of them. He brushes it off, and so does she. It is not until later that evening while they are at dinner that Ebba recounts the tale to their friends, and calls out Tomas for leaving his kids, but grabbing his phone. He adamantly denies it. They switch into their Swedish tongue, emphasizing the more serious turn in the debate. She is shocked. He says they must agree that they apparently just have two different interpretations of the events. When they arrive back at the hotel room, the couple reconciles and agrees that the events terrified everyone. They are going to put it behind them.
Like the avalanche, though, it only seems to gather momentum and will only get worse before it will go away. When Östlund spoke about his inspiration for the film, he mentioned a couple that he knew who had survived a frightening gunfire while on vacation in Latin America. Instead of protecting his family, the husband dove for cover, stunning his wife, and prompting her to bring up the event over and over again after a drink or two.
While speaking about the film, he brought up that statistics showed a number of men who reacted poorly to catastrophic situations. On the reaction to those articles, he said, “In Norway, some articles didn’t believe me when I spoke about the statistics of how men reacted to a set of ferry catastrophes. They said, ‘No, this can’t be true.'” He goes on to say, “One of the reasons I got very interested in this topic is, if you look at statistics, men of a certain age are the ones who survive ferry catastrophes. I don’t know the exact age, but the whole myth about women and children first—it’s just not true. At all. When it comes to a crisis situation, even though we have a culture that teaches men to stand up and be loyal, when it comes to survival instincts, men are the ones who have the actual ability to survive. I thought that was ironic, a horrifying fact to confront if you’re a man, of course, but interesting at the same time.” Östlund wanted to make a film that confronts the fallacies of modern masculinity.
Tomas is forced to reconcile with his selfish choices. Ebba begins to question the entire notion of marriage, as evidenced by a conversation she has with her friend who enjoys an open marriage. Their issues leak into the relationship of another couple, who end up arguing about what they think each of them would do in a hypothetical survival situation.
The film is mostly about the expectations that marriage and nuclear family life puts on people as individuals and what happens when we cannot live up to those expectations. When someone when, under pressure, fails to be the person they seem to be otherwise. And when you see the most disappointing parts of a person, are you still able to be with them?
“Force Majeure” is quietly observant. It does not take sides. One never wants to think that they would act horribly under any circumstance, but this film pushes each character, as well as the viewers into a corner. It forces one to ruminate with their own inadequacies and selfish motives, while this measured and nuanced film beats along eerily, brilliantly.