movie film review | chris tookey

Celebration / Festen

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  Celebration / Festen Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
7.80 /10
Christian: Ulrich Thomsen , Helge: Henning Moritzen , Michael: Thomas Bo Larsen
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Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Written by: Thomas Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov

Released: 1998
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: Denmark
Colour: C
Length: 105

A Danish family converges at the country hotel owned by its silver-haired patriarch (Henning Moritzen) , in order to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. There are early hints that all is not well. Dad is reluctant to discuss a daughter's suicide two months previously. Another daughter (Paprika Steene) chain-smokes and pops pills. When she discovers her sister's suicide note, she tries to ignore it The younger son (Tomas Bo Larsen) is a rude, racist drunk who beats up his wife. His more respectable, likeable brother (Ulrich Thomsen) stands up nervously to make a speech to his assembled relations, and accuses dad of raping him and his twin sister throughout their childhood. Whereupon the drunken chef and maids, who don't like their employers much, hide the guests' car-keys so that they can't go home.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Vinterberg's style of shooting - jerky, hand-held and of poor visual quality (he shot on video) - might easily have been annoying. However, it's in keeping with the subject. It comes across as a fly-on-the-wall video that might have been shot by an especially ruthless cameraman bent on commemorating the family occasion, come what may.

The performances are astonishingly real, and Vinterberg keeps the audience in enjoyable suspense as to whether the accusations against the old man are true or not.

There have been other films taking the lid off bourgeois respectability, ranging from the camp melodramatics of Visconti's The Damned through to the black comedy of Altman's The Wedding. This is among the best. It has some Ibsenesque insights into the power politics of family life, and - unlike Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - it succeeds in making you laugh at the horror of it all.

Admittedly, the situation is implausible. In real life, the guests would lose no time in leaving, with or without their car-keys. The idea that they would stubbornly reconvene for family breakfast the following morning is even more farcical.

But the audience accepts such artificiality because this is so patently an exaggerated satire on middle-class manners, and the feelings on display are so raw and superbly acted - especially by Birthe Neuman as the mother - that we want to watch them played through to their resolution.

There are certainly villains (oddly enough, despite the accusations of child abuse, it was the undertow of vicious racism that I found most upsetting), but there is a praiseworthy reluctance to demonise. Because the offenders are so determined to make the best of a nightmarish situation, you feel sympathy for their woe and a sneaking admiration for their resilience.

Many column inches were devoted around the time of release to the "movement" Dogme 95, of which this film is a part. It's not so much a genuine movement as a publicity stunt by some little-known Danish directors, a bandwagon on which such no-talent American directors as Harmony Korine are seeking to jump.

The movement's objectives - to shoot films on location, cheaply with lightweight cameras and in available light - are nothing new. Ken Loach has been doing it for years. Many directors have dabbled in their impecunious youth with cinema verite or used it on appropriate projects (even Woody Allen used it, on Husbands and Wives).

It is a safe prediction that Mr Vinterberg will start shooting with better lighting, more sophisticated cameras and much bigger budgets as they become available to him. But the evidence here is that he is equipped to make good use of them.

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