Turist

TuristSynopsis: A critical favorite at the Cannes Film Festival, where it took the Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard, this wickedly funny and precisely observed psychodrama tells the story of a model Swedish family – handsome businessman Tomas, his willowy wife Ebba and their two blond children – on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular but, during a lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche suddenly bears down on the happy diners. With people fleeing in all directions and his wife and children in a state of panic, Tomas makes a decision that will shake his marriage to its core and leave him struggling to reclaim his role as family patriarch.

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Turist 8.0

eyelights: the superb performances. the realistic dialogues. the engrossing character dynamics.
eyesores: the inscrutability of some scenes. the frosh/party sequence.

‘Turist’ is a 2014 Swedish film that follows a picture-perfect family on a ski trip in the French Alps over the course of five days – five days that will alter the rest of their lives. Known as ‘Force Majeure’ in North America, it has been nominated for and has won an endless stream of awards.

I had seen the same preview for it a few times at my local art house cinema and, truth be told, wasn’t too impressed with it. I knew I would likely enjoy it, based on all I’d heard about it, but I wasn’t sold; it remained low on my list. But a close friend wanted to see it, and see it we did.

As expected, ‘Turist’ was a solid, if not an unforgettable, motion picture.

About the title… a “force majeure” is basically an “Act of God”. It’s an event that is beyond the scope of natural occurrences, and it suggests that the people involved shouldn’t be held accountable by the usual standards. This is commonly used in legal terminology, especially with respect to insurance.

But it also applies here to some degree: the family is confronted with an unpredictable incident that shakes their faith in each other. Perhaps whoever picked the English title was trying to suggest that the parties involved should forgive each other’s weaknesses in these circumstances. Not sure.

The original title, though, is Swedish for “tourist”. I wish I knew what it meant to convey, aside from the obvious. Were the characters only tourists in their own lives? Is that it? Since they created and cultivate a façade, does it mean that they’re not at home with themselves, with each other?

I say this because their seemingly idyllic family, with the handsome husband (in a sleek Marky Mark kinda way), beautiful wife and the pretty kids, is really just a pretense. It’s a front that they maintain for the outside world – and, seemingly, for themselves, to satisfy their vision of what “family” should be.

They’ll find that unity hard to sustain in the days that come.

It all begins with the incident, which takes place during a quiet lunch on the resort restaurant’s patio. The resort consistently sets off small explosives for avalanche control throughout the family’s stay; by creating small avalanches, the resort prevents large, destructive ones from taking place.

But, as they are eating, a wave of snow comes barreling down the mountain towards them. At first confident that it’s under control, Tomas convinces his family not to worry about it – that is, until the avalanche comes perilously close to the patio, throwing everyone in a sudden panic.

This sends Tomas sprinting away from the table, leaving his family behind to cope with the snowy onslaught. His cowardice throws a wrench in the pristine family dynamics, with his children stunned and Ebba, his spouse, losing all confidence in -and respect for- him. Unexpected tensions begin to mount.

This is exacerbated by his inability to admit to Ebba that he ran away – not just in private, but also in public, disagreeing with her version of the events in the company of friends. This will even lead him to  outright lying, as he desperately tries to suppress the truth from everyone including himself.

One of the most notable scenes is when they are having after-dinner drinks in their resort apartment with Mats, an old friend of his and Mats’ girlfriend. The awkwardness that builds as the truth of the matter is revealed is such that one wants to laugh at the absurdity just to release the tension.

The look on Mats’ face is phenomenal. He is trapped there with the couple and doesn’t know how to pry himself out. All he wanted to do was to escape to this ski resort with his 20-something girlfriend and have a good time – and here they find themselves caught right in the middle of a growing conflict.

So he does the only thing he can think of doing: he tries to find ways to justify his friend’s actions, asking leading questions and practicing pedestrian psychology to explain what might have taken place. But there’s nothing to be done: Tomas is in utter denial, even when proof is presented to him.

It’s one of the most memorable scenes I’ve seen on screen in recent memory.

Another terrific scene comes when Ebba goes for drinks with Charlotte, a friend of hers. Struggling with her disappointment in Tomas, she holds on to her belief that the family unit is everything. Clearly, this explains why she and Tomas have been forcing themselves to maintain a united front all these years.

But she is faced with a challenge to her model by Charlotte, who is in an open relationship and is at the resort picking up various men; Ebba can’t help but question her friend’s commitment to her own family. The exchange is superb, with Charlotte soberly answering her questions and countering her arguments.

I loved not just the fashion in which the dialogue took place, but also the fact that the picture dares to present a different family model, all the while questioning the classic one presented by Ebba and Tomas. I’m no great fan of a one-size-fits-all vision, and I liked that this was addressed so intelligently here.

I also liked that ‘Turist’ isn’t afraid to take its time to capture and immerse us in the moment – not just during those discussions, but also as the family soaks in the atmosphere of the French Alps. There are lengthy shots of scenery that were as breathtaking as they were enveloping. This set the perfect mood.

Naturally, none of this would mean anything if the performances weren’t rock solid:

  • Johannes Kuhnke captured Tomas’ emotional struggles very well, and his eventual breakdown was as realistic as it was horrific to see. There’s no way one can like a father who would ditch his family, then lie about it and even try to discredit his own partner in the process. But Kuhnke made him fascinating.
  • Lisa Loven Kongsli is terrific as Ebba. She is visibly shaken, haunted, even, by the event; her inability to get over it marks her every moment afterwards. Her inner turmoil was etched in her face; Kongsli was able to show this even as the character tried to put up a front. You can’t help but sympathize with her.
  • Kristofer Hivju was amazing to watch as Mats, especially when Ebba is revealing the situation to him and his girlfriend. The various looks of bewilderment on his face as he tries to figure out how to get out of this mess are amazing to watch. Kongsli had the toughest role, but Hivju was my favourite.
  • Fanni Metelius was quite excellent as Mats’ girlfriend; she made her discomfort visible in her body language, even while she’s in the background. Her character is a spitfire who isn’t afraid to confront things – she just can’t get involved with these strangers. There’s a terrific moment when she awkwardly pats Ebba’s shoulder, as though she thinks it’s expected, but doesn’t fully have her heart in it. Nice.
  • Karin Myrenberg plays Charlotte, Ebba’s friend. She doesn’t have that much screen time, but she defines the character well. Charlotte is solid in herself and her beliefs; she takes her friend’s criticisms in stride, defending herself without going on the defensive or attacking back. Smart.

The children are also quite good. The whole cast is fabulous: it’s hardly surprising that most of them found themselves nominated for Guldbagge Awards, with Kristofer Hivju winning as Bets Supporting Actor. The picture, it must be noted, also won for Best Picture, Best Director, Bets Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

Sadly, there were a couple a couple of moments in the film’s third act that took the luster off of ‘Turist’ for me.

There’s the moment when Tomas returns to find himself locked out of the apartment: somehow he ended up being carried off by a bunch of young male revelers into some sort of screaming beer-swilling madness. This was discrepant and it left me wondering whether it had taken place, or if it was just in his imagination.

Then there’s the triple ending, which started with the whole family skiing out into the fog, then later walking out of the resort, seemingly changed, followed by the incident with the dangerous bus driver. I’m not sure if this was the director’s intention or this was just a perception, but these moments gradually let the air out.

One “ending” is plenty.

Having said this, ‘Turist’ remains fascinating to watch. Between its cleverly-conducted breakdown of this family’s well-manicured dynamic, the thought-provoking dialogues, solid performances, awe-inspiring scenery and the subtle humour (which was sowed from discomfort), it’s a poignant mix.

It should leave few unmoved.

Date of viewing: January 23, 2015

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