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The Celebration
IMDB Rating: 8.1/10 from 12 votes
Release: 4 February 1999 (Netherlands) /

The Celebration

Genre: Drama
Director: Thomas Vinterberg,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: The Father turns 60. His family, which is a big one of the kind, gathers to celebrate him on a castle. Everybody likes and respects the father deeply...or do they? The youngest son is trying to live up to the father's expectations. He is running a grill-bar in a dirty part of Copenhagen. The oldest son runs a restaurant in France, while the sister is a anthropologist. The older sister has recently committed suicide and the father asks the oldest son to say a few words about her, because he is afraid he will break into tears if he does it himself. The oldest son agrees without argument. Actually he has already written two speeches. A yellow and a green one. By the table, he asks the father to pick a speech. The father chooses green. The oldest son announces that this is the Speech of Truth. Everybody laughs, except for the father who gets a nervous look on his face. For he knows that the oldest son is about to reveal the secret of why the oldest sister killed herself. Written by Jonas L.

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Critic Reviews


I have just seen Vinterberg's `Festen' an hour ago. Usually I try not to write or think about a film right after I have seen it. However, I am too overwhelmed to prevent myself from writing. I had been waiting over a year to see a film like the `Fetsen' that would both demonstrate superb craftsmanship and be able to move me personally at the same time. The combination of the two in a film is without a doubt the product of brilliant storytelling. I would, therefore, like to start by congratulating the storyteller Vinterberg before going on with my eulogies.

As for why I liked the `Festen' so much there is no better place to start from than Dogme 95. I must confess, though I loved Lars Von Trier's `The Kingdome', that I thought Dogme 95 would be nothing more than a fruitless publicity stunt. Of course I have been proven wrong. For one thing reading the comments on IMDB it is apparent that viewers, whether they liked the `Festen' or not, whether they are interested in film as art form or not and whether they are aware of what Dogme 95 is or not, have all commented extensively on the cinematography, the camera and the directing. I believe that this is an important achievement. All the expensive technology that has been used in mainstream cinema within the last few years have made viewers forget that there are actually people behind the cameras who are making decisions. This supposedly is good directing, because it carries the viewer into the universe in which the film is taking place. But carried to an extreme it homogenizes films to an extent where the viewer watches a ship sink with the same emotions as he/she watches cows fly in a tornado.

None however, despite the colossal events that they depict, can achieve the explosiveness with which the `Festen' turns a simple family gathering into a crisis of catastrophic proportions. This is mainly due to the brilliant use of Dogme 95 that, among other things, requires that camera movements be restricted to those that can be achieved with a handheld camera, and, only natural light and locations be used. I believe that these are only principles and whatever individual directors achieve with them solely depend on their respective talents. It is the same thing with mainstream Hollywood cinema, though there is a widely used form of narration, only Steven Spielberg and a handful of other directors are really good at it. As such one must look at how Vinterberg has used the principles of Dogme 95 to produce the work of superb storytelling that the `Festen' is.

Without a doubt the use of natural light only has worked to the advantage of the film by helping convey the atmosphere required by each scene. The film starts off in daylight as all the family members arrive at the family run hotel to celebrate their father's sixtieth birthday. The bright sunlight is therefore good to convey the idea that the family is actually attending what they believe will be a celebration. However, as the story unfolds and dark secrets of the family are unraveled, the light also changes. Outside shots give way to darker interior shots. Sharp images shot in daylight give way to darker and grainy images.

The use of handheld camera, however, is perhaps the most important element in conveying the general atmosphere of the film. The constant trembling and sharp movements of the camera in closed claustrophobic environments create the uneasy feeling that there is something constantly threatening to explode. I could think of no better way to shoot a film about a family that reveals its darkest secrets throughout the gathering. When the secrets in the `Festen' are eventually revealed unleashing anger and hatred, the explosive moments the viewers had anticipated, the fast camera movements only serve to enhance the violence of each scene. Another director, though not related to Dogme 95, I admire for his use of constant camera movements in closed environments to generate the same feeling is Martin Scorcese (especially in Mean Streets). This quality, among other things, has made Martin Scorcese one of my favorite directors of all times.

In addition to brilliant directing, I thought that the `Fetsen' had a superb cast of very talented actors. My only regret has been the fact that I do not understand Danish and could therefore not enjoy their performance as much as I would have wanted to. But the rhythm and emotion in which the actors delivered their lines is powerful enough to transcend any language barrier. The screenplay is brilliant. It could have been shot by the worst Hollywood director and still have become a decent film. I do not want to give the plot away. The only thing I will, therefore, say is that the character development is very good, and, the plot, the pace at which it unravels and each family member reveals or changes his/her position, makes the story fall together exactly as it should have.

One of Dogme 95's purposes is to bring the viewer closer to the story and the characters, if this is the case I believe that that the `Festen' has achieved just that. Ironically, though Dogme 95 also intends to undermine the role of the director as auteur it has achieved just the opposite. But I believe that this is a good and refreshing thing when most other upcoming filmmakers do not seem as concerned as their predecessors had been/still are with film as art form.

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