by Kleitia Vaso

I am becoming gradually convinced that the title of a work is as important as the content of the work.  Force Majeure is the title of a recent (2014) Swedish movie; the expression usually refers to a power of nature, a catastrophe beyond human power to stop or control. Consequently, when it occurs, one has no choice in confronting it and, following the inescapable confrontation, one merges partially, if not wholly, transformed.

In this specific case, the expression force majeure refers to an avalanche, the occurrence of which irreversibly changes the existing dynamics within a Nordic family. The family is postcard-perfect and, not coincidentally, the movie begins with its wholesome, beautiful members taking vacation group photos. The blond and milky-skinned family of four is vacationing at a ski resort, a beautiful yet slightly sterile place, similar to the family itself. Although beautiful, the family members are so perfectly proportioned that they seem vaguely sexless and doll-like. The few telltale signs of dissatisfaction and neglect emerge here and there in this seemingly perfect family, especially in the nonchalant and careless treatment of the wife by the husband.

The event which uncovers the family’s shaky foundations is an avalanche – a fitting metaphor –  which appears out of nowhere while the family is enjoying their breakfast in an open restaurant with an impressive view of the mountains. Suddenly, the snow begins to slide and gradually comes closer to the restaurant. After the initial requisite filming and photos, most of the customers start to leave their tables and run away from the oncoming snow. Sensing danger from the very beginning, the mother insists on leaving while the family’s father remains calm, convinced that the avalanche has been orchestrated by the restaurant for entertainment purposes, in order to provide its customers with a fuller experience of nature. But, as the avalanche advances, gaining strength and speed, the father instinctively leaves the table and, scared for his life, runs away, momentarily forgetting the existence of his family.

The ways in which our instincts betray us, our violent unmasking, and the attempts to either forget or overcome what we have  done or experienced, are some of the topics explored in this movie. The father’s shameful escape from what turns out to be an artificial avalanche and the consequences of this action for him and his family are difficult to watch and the viewer’s reaction is initially one of incredulity, disappointment, and even anger.  Yet, one can certainly understand and empathize with the disappointment, pain and regret of someone betrayed by his own uncontrolled reaction. Indeed, the movies addresses precisely the undoing of one’s identity caused by such sudden and powerful occurrences, or rather one’s reaction to these moments which uncover an unknown part, and the eventual and gradual return towards an acceptable but permanently changed version of ourselves.

I thought of the movie often in the following days and discussed it with several people. My full understanding of it and its depiction of disappointing actions, however, came in a ridiculous way, as it often happens. On a regular morning, I was late as usual. While walking, I kept checking for my bus on the other side of the street, always both equally close and out of reach. It often happens that my morning fate is determined by a few random occurrences such as whether the traffic light at this specific crossroad is red or green. As I saw the bus approaching, still significantly out of my reach, I started to run, trying to reach the light in order to swiftly reach the other side of the road. But, every one out of three mornings, the traffic light does not work at all, completely throwing off any predictions I might have made in determining my fate. Of course, the impatient Albanian drivers pretend they don’t notice this glaring malfunction despite the quickly growing number of pedestrians waiting on the side of the sidewalk. Suddenly, in a moment of panic, feeling as if indefinitely stuck on the wrong side, I suddenly saw fate’s helping hand alongside me in the shape of an old woman, who, hoping against hope, thought that she could cross the street.

I looked at her. Possessed by the devil and thinking only of my final goal – myself on the other side – I grabbed her by the arm and dragged her across the street with me. With lightning speed and efficiency, the thought that the drivers would be shamed into slowing down and demonstrate a bit more respect and caution towards an old woman, did cross my mind. Unfortunately, the shameful charade does not end here. While the lady kept thanking me under her breath, I, with eyes fixed on the moving bus, abandoned her midway through our short journey, at the bridge dividing the small highway. I ran like a wild person, blinded by my petty aims.

Unfortunately but justly, I did not catch the bus. The driver did not turn his head in my direction – another act dictated by fate which determines the success or lack thereof of my mornings – and thus, the bus, which had physically and emotionally consumed me for a few brief but intense moments, left. What didn’t leave was the image of the poor woman stuck in the middle of the crossroads, forever – or what seems like forever to a guilty conscience – hesitating between staying there or bravely attempting to cross the remaining half of the street. She seemed doubly sad, though this could only be a feeling caused by my merciless abandonment. I must admit I felt several emotions at once: a wave of shame, the desire to go back and help her, disappointment with myself, but also a weird desire to laugh.

And, then and there, I fully understood the film I had just seen. I don’t know which comes first – the idea (read in a book, watched in a movie) or experience  – but, in this case, as in many others, by experiencing something similar to a depiction in a movie, I understood the movie and it, in turn, as any valuable artwork, made me better know myself.

by Kleitia Vaso