Film

Skype Dates and Ski Jumps: Johannes Kuhnke on the Role of a Lifetime

Force Majeure is a brutal film, and not just because of the avalanche. Johannes Kuhnke stretched himself for this awards season buzz pick, and often in very surprising ways.


Force Majeure

Director: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Year: 2014
US Release Date: 2014-11-06
Website

Force Majeure opens with a family having their picture taken during the first day of their ski vacation in the Alps. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their children Harry (Vincent Wettergren) and Vera (Clara Wettergren) are all toothy smiles and rosy cheeks as the photographer asks them to put their arm around each other, or to look this and that way.

The absurdity of the scene setting the unique tone with which director Ruben Östlund will deconstruct the very core of this family, for this might very well be the happiest moment they will share during their vacation. The following day a controlled avalanche, sets off an uncontrolled emotional downfall that will have the parents pitted against each other, making the film feel like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets The Shining.

Östlund expertly cast his film and gives Kuhnke the role of a lifetime, allowing him to play a character who goes through an entire prism of emotions, most of which films don't usually allow male actors to display. We see him completely humiliated, emasculated and wondering what the meaning of his life is, which makes a brilliant contrast with Kuhnke's matinee idol looks. A modulated work of comedic brilliance on several levels, he gives the kind of performance year-end awards should remember more often. We had the opportunity to discuss the film with Kuhnke, who talked about his process, Ruben's directorial techniques and how having played a transgendered rockstar might have affected his work here.

* * *

Once you read this screenplay, did you make up your mind about who was right and who was wrong?

I was trying to defend him, but it wasn't that easy. When I read the screenplay I could understand that he runs, but why doesn't he say anything? I think it was because he lost all forms of communication with her, and for example the first time she talks about the incident, it's with other people and then, because of social codes, he lies and pretends he didn't run, and he just sinks deeper and deeper.

Were you a fan of Ruben's work before making this film?

Yeah, I like them very much.

Do you think they represent Sweden well in terms of all the issues under the polished, civilized facade we're used to think about when we think of Scandinavian countries?

Of course. I think he's trying to dissect the sociological patterns in a very interesting way.

I found it quite interesting that you and Lisa both studied theater in New York City. Did that make it easier for you to develop these characters together? What was the process like?

Since we're playing a couple who has been married for ten years, and we only met during the casting process. She's very attractive, but these characters shouldn't be attracted to each other anymore, the audience couldn't see that. So we decided to Skype in the three months leading up to the 60-day shoot. We Skyped every day for one hour. At the beginning we would sit and fix ourselves, look nice, set up a nice area, but after a month it was more like "Oh fuck, I have to Skype with her again!" [laughs] Then when we finally met again, we were bored of each other, which was really good.

You played the leading role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Sweden, who is a transgender woman and your role in Force Majeure requires you to completely break down all the stereotypes of a macho, tough guy. Did playing Hedwig, in any way help you play this part?

I'm not sure. I feel quite free as a man, I don't think that I'm very macho. I don't feel like I have to prove anything, but in this movie I found out that even I who feel free, am a slave to the male norm, because the most reproduced picture is the male hero you see in movies. Often you have the opportunity to play someone nicer, sexier or manlier and this movie was the opposite, I had to play the kind of person I would hate. So many of my friends who see the movie tell me they don't wanna get married, have children or ski.

The film really made me crave cigarettes. It is so tense ...

Yeah but it's also because during this age, we're living in social media and producing a picture of ourselves on Instagram and through status updates and in front of our children. We are not human, we don't show who we are because we're trying to be perfect.

Ruben's films are very interested in the future of children, which made me wonder if you explained the themes of the film to the actors who played your kids?

Yeah, Ruben shoots one scene a day, but in this one we had two camera positions every day because there were so many co-producers, which made Ruben wonder how he would cope with working like this, "Two camera positions each day? Fuck me!" I'm used to doing two or three takes and then the producer screaming "Next scene!" even if you didn't think your work was good in that particular take. So with Ruben you really squeeze out everything about the scene.

There were also a lot of digital additions to the film, including the famous avalanche. Were you surprised about how everything looked when you saw the final cut?

We were very open. We would do 15 or 20 takes, then paused and did an evaluation. We looked at the rushes, took some fresh air, so really I'd seen most of the scenes before I saw the movie, but we also shot a lot more scenes than you see in the movie, which you might see on the DVD.

Do you ski as well?

Yeah, I'm from the north.

Ruben makes this skiing resort look so alien. When you saw the movie did you notice how weird everything about this world looked?

Yes. It's like somebody has decided that in this wild nature they will drop a hotel, build lifts ... and they have people working at night to tame nature, making these controlled avalanches.

How excited are you about the film possibly being nominated for the Oscar?

I'm so glad they chose our movie [for Sweden's Foreign Language submission]. Before we had the premiere in Cannes I was worried about the humor not getting through, because it's very Swedish humor, but I'm so happy it worked so well abroad. Also, since America is such a family-oriented country, from the politics to society, I was worried the movie would be hard to "get."

Since you brought up families, how do you feel the film would've played out with a gay couple instead of a heterosexual one?

I have a lot of gay friends who said this film was like advertising endorsing homosexuality [laughs]

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image