American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In Ruben Östlund’s sharp-edged marital drama “Force Majeure,” a young Swedish family–mom, dad, two grade school age kids–begin their skiing vacation in a French Alpine resort in typical holiday high spirits. The first day on the slopes, they pause to have their pictures taken en famille by a tourist photographer, as if to acquire tangible evidence of their sentimental solidarity and joy at outdoorsy togetherness.
Then, on the vacation’s second day, something extraordinary happens. They are having lunch at the resort’s rooftop restaurant when, just after their food has been served, they hear a loud report from the mountain above them, and snow begins to topple down the slopes. It’s a controlled avalanche, a common thing in ski resorts, but this one quickly comes to seem excessive, as if it’s not under control at all.
Due to the ensuing confusion, it’s easy to miss exactly what happens next on a first viewing of the film. But it is the crux of the story: Fearing they’re about to be engulfed by the avalanche, many diners react in panic, and the Swedish father, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), jumps up and flees the deck, leaving his wife and kids at the table. Fortunately, the avalanche stops short of the restaurant, though it sends up a billow of snow that whites-out the scene for a minute or two. Though terrified briefly, the diners soon resume their lunches. But the appearance of no-harm-done is illusory, at least in the case of the Swedish family.
Tomas at first is puzzled that his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) appears irritated at him. What reason could she have? Rather than saying, she shrugs it off. Their kids seem annoyed at both parents. But the real rub comes when the parents have dinner that night with another couple. Ebba tells the story of the avalanche, and how Tomas abandoned his family to save himself, taking his cell phone but not his son. Tomas flatly denies he did any such thing. It never happened, he says, adding defensively that he and Ebba obviously have two different versions of what occurred.