The Celebration (Festen)
Director: Thomas Vinteberg
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen
The first movie of the Dogme 95 movement, ‘The Celebration’ is Dogme I. Vinterberg, the director of this movie is also one of the founders of the movement. The Dogme collective espouses simple filmmaking – the use of handheld cameras, no props, no sound apart from those produced naturally and so on and so forth. The Dogme rules are fascinating in their simplicity. The movie-watching experience is not ‘created’ for the viewer; instead we are drawn inexplicably to the reality of the situations portrayed. And I have never felt it more than with a movie like The Celebration. This is the story of a family that gathers for the 60th birthday celebrations of the patriarch, Helge (Moritzen) and the tumultuous occurrences at the celebration. The party takes place at their family-run hotel, old and beautiful set against a stark, wan Scandinavian landscape. Helge and his wife, Else have four children – Helene, Michael, Christian and Linda. Solid and pensive, we wonder what secrets Christian (Thomsen) is hiding. Michael (Bo Larsen) is a terrible boor who we know can be up to no good, even in the first few scenes of the movie, when he forces his wife and kids out of the car and makes them walk to the hotel in the hot sun. We can’t quite place Helene: she is emotional and obviously extremely close to Linda, Christian’s twin. We know that Linda recently died, and it is only a little later we realise that she committed suicide in the hotel.
At the celebratory lunch, Christian makes a toast to his father – and reveals something terrible. He and Linda were sexually abused by their father as children, routinely taken into the study to play out his sick fantasies. As a viewer, I am not sure which was more heart-wrenching, pummeling me in the stomach – the callous non-reaction of the whole extended family or the revelation itself. Everyone at the table pretended not to hear it and continued to talk after a momentary silence. Christian leaves the table only to return with more revelations. What follows is even more sickening. We realise that the mother knew throughout and still shields Helge. Helene tries to hush him up and divert attention. Worst of all, his younger brother, Michael and two of the hotel staff drag Christian out, beat him up and tie him to a tree in the woods! All of this is done in a bid to silence him and protect the grand old man. But mystery shrouds and we are curious of the contents of a particular letter, the letter Linda wrote before she committed suicide. What does this letter say and how does it turn the celebration on its head? Please do watch this movie. You will be moved, you will be enraged and isn’t that also what movies are supposed to do?
Verdict: A wonderful movie that will touch you in its simplicity.
Hot: Real, completely natural performances and situations that speak volumes of the Dogme 95 movement of filmmaking.
Not: Being as we are used to traditional filmmaking techniques, the naturalistic Dogme style may not be for everyone.