Satire – or at least sustained satire – is not a particularly common cinematic register, so it tends to be quite striking when it manifests itself as mercilessly as in Force Majeure. Set in its entirety at an exclusive ski resort in the Swiss Alps, Ruben Ostlund’s fourth film is about a nuclear family who start to fall apart when their patriarch deserts them in the face of an impending avalanche, only to skulk back sheepishly when he realises that the danger has passed. Most of the film follows the family – and especially the couple, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kunke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) – as they try to recover from that moment, a situation that’s considerably complicated by the fact that Tomas seems unwilling or unable to even acknowledge it took place. His face and body give him away, though, as Kuhnke puts in a performance of such shame, emasculation and downright sheepishness that it’s almost impossible to watch, while Ostlund prevents him ever becoming a figure of complete pathos either by way of the mock-heroic cues and vistas within which he frames this disintegrating marriage. In particular, most scenes between Tomas and Ebba are shot from a distance, as Ostlund’s camera scrutinises Tomas until he positively squirms under the weight of the massive alpine mise-en-scenes that previously seemed commensurate to his grandeur as the head of the family, but now seem somewhat satirical, suddenly dwarfing him with his own pretensions and aspirations to manhood. Add to that the fact that Ostlund also tends to shoot the couple and their conversations straight-on, as they gaze into the middle distance, and there’s an exquisite sense of just how hard it is for them to make eye contact after this momentous event in their marriage, as they’re pinned and mounted by a panoramic shame that seems to somehow have infected them as a couple, and as an entire family unit, quickly exceeding Tomas’ momentary impulse. Yet just when it feels as if the film is becoming too merciless, or too monotonous, Ostlund slackens things a little, as the couple start to drift into something of a monogamish relationship – not necessarily sexually, but in the sense of being open to other couples, individuals and experiences in ways that were prohibited by the tightness of their previous nuclear unit, a movement that doesn’t fully revitalise their relationship so much as create a new flexibility and provisionality between them that’s perhaps more original than any more straightforward renunciation or reclamation of manhood would have been. Ostlund trained as a skiing director, and his wonderful depictions of the resort are what finally cement this flexibility as something to be admired and even emulated – since the narrative ends on a slightly morose note – as he translates the dissolving architecture and machinery of the relationship straight onto the alpine landscape. Against a series of abstract voids in which land and sky seem to be perpetually fused, he takes us through one weird, decontextualised snippet of alpine transportation after another, until the whole film feels set on the lifts, gondolas and tracks that seem to be continually ferrying the family from one empty space to the next. At first, their gliding, vertiginous freefall is somewhat disconcerting – all motion in the film quickly and eerily comes to feel relative – but by the end, it feels as if these perpetual whiteouts are the only places where the couple can come to terms with things, which is perhaps why the final scene, poised precariously between the resort and the real world, feels so perfect, and so poetic.