It’s never easy to see a grown man cry. When a man is reduced to tears, it’s best seen by as few eyes as possible. “Could you please, please, give us some privacy?” The command is directed to the unwanted onlooker who’s not supposed to stare at the walls of the middle class fortress crumbling, and should, in fact, himself, go about his business in the stealthiest of ways. In a strikingly hilarious scene, director Ruben Östlund deliberately chooses a hotel cleaner in an Alpine skiing resort to witness the breakdown of the pater familias of a well–to–do family. It is only one of many examples where Östlund fools around with a weakness that should best be kept behind closed doors, but fails to remain hidden.
Turist hangs out the dirty laundry of that most respected emblem of bourgeois society – the nuclear family. It’s the kind of film Michael Haneke would make if he were one day to wake up with a sense of humour. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is the head of a family of four. He’s obliged by his loving wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) to endure a five-day vacation with his kin, preferably without the distraction of his iPhone. Problem? Not really. Until a force of nature overthrows their delicate balance.
Coming up with a proper response in the face of certain death is no given. Ebba has a hard time forgiving Tomas for leaving her and the children to their own devices, but tries as best as she can to sweep his faux pas under the rug. How long will it take to keep up appearances? It seems their days are numbered – with Brechtian pancartes, nonetheless.
Östlund conducts his analysis of the clan’s slide down a slippery slope both with short, clinical shots that register a character’s nervous reaction to ramshackled situations, and with drawn-out dialogue scenes that turn from peaceful sketches to tension-ridden disclosures of human iniquity. Turist tests the limits of control. It frames its characters with gusto in the most awkward of situations: dinners go sour, evenings with friends get undermined by a breach of decorum. In true Bergmanesque fashion, the couple’s troubles are set off against the dynamics of other romantic relationships. Ebba is baffled by her peers, who sleep around with a family on the side or feel no shame in trading in a wife and children for a perky twenty-year-old blonde. How could these situations ever be rendered as a perfect portrait for the mantelpiece?
It takes another event that lies beyond their immediate control to make both Tomas and Ebba realize that it’s not always necessary to keep your shortcomings in tow. By the end of the film, a cigarette is offered to Tomas. He refuses, but decides against his initial judgement. “Dad – you smoke?” He does. Not everything is picture perfect.