SeniorsSkiing’s First Movie Review A “Runaway” Hit From The Alps

We remember the New Wave of French cinema in the late-50s to mid-70s when going to a “Foreign Film” was an intellectual exercise. That’s when you and your date went to those black and white, sub-titled classics, The Four Hundred Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Breathless or Jules and Jim, and afterward settled into a discussion about what it all meant. To jog your memory, check out this scene from Annie Hall, where Woody Allen squelches an academic babbler by dragging none other than media theorist Marshall McCluhan into the scene to settle an argument. We were all into interpretation, the more philosophically zealous the better.

Which brings to mind the 2014 movie Force Majeure, from the Swedish director Ruben Ostland. We were attracted to it because it takes place in a French ski resort in the Alps. Since the last film we remember that had skiing as a central element of the plot was Downhill Racer (1969), we thought we’d take it in. It certainly brought back the old-days of trying to “figure out” the message.

A vacationing Swedish family of four enjoys lunch on the deck of a mid-mountain lodge when an avalanche envelops the scene. It’s actually an

An avalanche triggers a family crisis. Credit: Ruben Ostland
An avalanche triggers a family crisis.
Credit: Ruben Ostland

astonishing sight as the assembled lunch crowd first marvels, then gasps, and finally panics at the approaching cloud of snow. What happens then propels the plot: The father of the family runs away, leaving his wife and two children behind to fend for themselves. The avalanche evaporates into a mist, the father returns, but the wife and mother is left with doubt. That uncertainty grows in several uncomfortable scenes including long, slow takes without dialogue, semi-humorous encounters with other couples at the resort and a foggy ski run that ultimately leads to the climax of the movie and its equally foggy denouement.

While the plot may drive some reflective conversations with your date, we loved our new insights into European-style skiing, the silent actor that we feel stole the show. The movie was filmed at Les Arcs in Savoie, France, which is a cluster of different resorts near Mont Blanc.

Open-piste skiing is a featured character in Force Majeure Credit: LesArcsNet
Open-piste skiing is a featured character in Force Majeure
Credit: LesArcsNet/SMA

We got a sense of what it is like to spend a week in the alps, open-piste skiing between different resort areas, taking tele-cabine gondolas from place to place and living in a tres chic, modern hotel with luxury dining and service. Les Arcs has a series of large, apartment-block-like hotels located at different altitudes, all connected by a web of lifts. When two characters in the movie head off-piste for some adventure skiing, the solitude and the scenery are exquisite.

Aside from a few thrilling mountain chases in James Bond films, we’ve not noticed ski resorts, skiing or ski racing in any recent movies. So, thanks to Force Majeure and director/writer Ruben Ostland, perhaps another auteur de cinema can realize the dramatic opportunities in alpine vistas.  Force Majeure is currently available on Netflix.


  1. And not only is it back, but it is back with a brain. I am so sick and tired of ski films of the Animal House ilk and have been craving a film like Force Majeure. I love that skiing is the backdrop of a greater story and a metaphor for the human condition. And I was so happy that the lead female role went to an actor instead of a former porn star and that she for the most part kept her clothes on. I have rented Downhill Racer so may times from Netflix that I am afraid they are going to make me persona non rentay if I don’t stop. So, yes, I am glad that there is finally a ski film with a plot, fine acting and one that is worth renting at all.

    BTW: I saw the upcoming trailer for the new James Bond and it appears to involve arctic temperatures and snow. Could it be that 007 will don skis again? I hope so. Like Daniel Craig could get any cooler.

  2. Force Majeure is a brilliant comment on gender stereotypes. But don’t imagine it gives an accurate picture of European skiing. Call me pedantic but I was irritated by silly mistakes which could easily have been avoided. I’ll forgive the somewhat unlikely avalanche, But show me where you can find pistes and ski lifts that empty. Would I have taken my two sons skiing in a white out on a deserted piste when they were that young? Please explain how it’s possible to sprint up the mountain in deep snow – in boots. And where on earth did they find that road down at the end? It’s so far from reality as to be risible. Cinematic licence, of course, but it would still have been a great movie without the factual flaws.

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