Festen (The Celebration)

This is a film by Thomas Vinterberg, a brilliant director who along with three other directors signed a pact, the “Dogme 95” that ridiculed the norms of lavish Hollywood films that they considered were a waste of money. The Dogme 95 rejects unnecessary expenses on special effects, elaborate sets, locations, computer graphics, lighting and other expenditures that go into making a high budget commercial film. Instead it believes in the use of natural lighting and sound and shooting with a hand-held camera in a location without the use of any extra sets.

Sticking to this pact, Vinterberg has directed an exceptional film that delves into the depths of the family dynamics of a dysfunctional family that has dark hidden secrets that are now to be unravelled. It is the 60th birthday of the Patriarch, Helge, played by Henning Mortizen and the family gathers in their family-owned hotel to celebrate the occasion. The party is attended, apart from other guests, by his elder son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), a second son, Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), daughter Helene (Paprika Steen) and his wife Else (Birthe Neumann).

Festen

Festen

In a turn of events that takes place within 24 hours, shocking family secrets are revealed to the attending guests when Christian is asked to raise a toast to his father. Besides the happy occasion, the family has recently gone through a tragic death of the other daughter, Linda, the twin of Christian. Christian, who is normally a quiet and reserved person, decides that this is an opportunity for him to speak his mind out and he must make best use of it. So when, his father asks him to deliver the speech, he reveals the shocking episodes of child abuse and sexual molestation that his father had inflicted on him and his twin sister.

Else, the mother brushes it off as a figment of Christian’s imagination. Michael, who is ill-tempered, unthinking and aggressive with all those who do not agree with him, looks at this as a great chance to get into the good books of his father, who did not think much of him. He contradicts Christian and throws him out of the hotel. Helene, a philanthropist, finds a suicide note left behind by her dead older sister, but she chooses to keep quiet about it for the time being. However, she does read out the note, which reveals that Linda had been having nightmares of her father molesting her again and this had driven her to suicide.

The next morning, Helge admits to having molested his children and causing misery to them. Each character has been portrayed beautifully by the actors and as we watch the truth unravel itself, we see that even Helge, who would otherwise have been a villain, has a human aspect to his character. A sensitive issue has been powerfully dealt with and Thomas Vinterberg has delivered a film that is emotionally touching as well as rewarding to watch. He has assigned each character a power, working into their minds and bringing out the truths of human character and behaviour that can be emotionally disturbing, unnerving and sometimes even a show of vulnerability.

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen,Paprika Steen,Thomas Bo Larsen,Henning Moritzen
Language: English,German,Danish
Subtitles: English
Genre: Drama
Country: Sweden|Denmark
Year: 1998
Awards: Canberra Short Film Festival, European Film Awards, Gijón International Film Festival, Guldbagge Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Lübeck Nordic Film Days, New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Norwegian International Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, São Paulo International Film Festival, Bodil Awards, Robert Festival, Amanda Awards, Cannes Film Festival

Nominations: Satellite Awards, BAFTA Awards, British Independent Film Awards, Cannes Film Festival, Amanda Awards, European Film Awards, César Awards, Golden Globes, Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards, Camerimage, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Cinema Brazil Grand Prize, Csapnivalo Awards, Gijón International Film Festival, Online Film Critics Society Awards

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