A blackly comic drama about family ties and duties set in a blinding landscape.

As a model Swedish family sits down for lunch at a mountaintop restaurant on a skiing holiday in the French Alps, a controlled explosion sets off a spectacular avalanche on a nearby slope. It’s an awesome sight – until the vast cascade of snow gains momentum and threatens to engulf the restaurant terrace. Mum Ebba grabs the kids, while dad Tomas darts for cover until the danger passes. Their opposing instincts for selfless protection and self-preservation threaten an irreparable rift, and the next days are spent in brooding doubt and recrimination.

Ruben Östlund’s existentialist chiller shatters our expectations of how humans truly act when in peril. Studies of distress and emergency give the lie to Titanic-inspired assumptions of protective males taking charge and standing chivalrously by while the womenfolk and children are led to safety. Instead, the survival instinct invariably kicks in, and it’s every man for himself. Östlund runs with this observation in a bold and provocative examination of the fragility of human dignity and family security – symbolised by the creaking ski lifts and beetling snowploughs that parody our falsely assumed mastery over nature.

The majesty of the mountains is captured by long fixed camera angles and aching silence, interrupted by unsettlingly shrill accordion bursts of Vivaldi’s Summer – an ironic intervention in these frozen wastes that brilliantly reflects Tomas’s increasingly frenzied self-doubt.

Having practically swept the board in Sweden’s national film awards, and claimed the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes, a Hollywood remake is in the offing, with Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus set to star. In the meantime, this frostily disturbing original will chill you to the bone and leave you squirming with laughter, anticipation and recognition.

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