The Celebration (Festen)


Thank you for all those good years.

Dogme95 was a cinematic movement championed by a few Danish filmmakers that valued simple productions, no special effects, natural performances, and using what was available to you at the time and place to make your movie. It ended up mostly being a publicity stunt, but a number of films were made adhering to the dogma’s strict rules, such as only using natural lighting and not bringing in any props or otherwise altering the location to suit the film. The very first of these films to be certified a Dogme95 film is Festen, or The Celebration, directed by Thomas Vinterburg, and aside from just being the first Dogme film, it is also an expertly written and directed piece of work.

First off, you better get used to a handheld camera, as Dogme rules only permit such a camera to be used for shooting. Thankfully, Vinterberg knows how to use his camera, even under restrictions; he makes the camera deliberately dynamic and kinetic, utilizing motion to help carry the energy of the film where it otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. The performances were, to put it mildly, beautifully done; the Dogme style of natural performances meant everything felt so much more real, and impacted that much more emotionally. The story meanders about for a little while at first, setting up plot elements and character relationships that will come into play later. Then, the bomb is dropped, and from then on the tension is ratcheted up into extremely palpable levels, all throughout the rest of the film, and it is, if I can put it in a word, delicious, but not negatively so. This isn’t meant to be an experience in schadenfreude, but a gripping and tenuous display of a family desperately trying to cling to the remains of a shattered reality. The script is brilliantly done, and takes the right twists and turns throughout the narrative, and even manages to end on a somewhat happy note. Well done writing all around.

There’s a racism subplot that seems to be kind of smushed in for the gall of it; it never went anywhere, and I’m not sure why it was even there. Other than that, though, this was extremely well done, especially given the constraints it had to adhere to. Being a Dogme film, this is extremely simple, so there’s not a whole lot else to say about it, but don’t let that deter you from seeing this one; it’s a refreshing and fantastic film that warrants at least one sit-through on your part.

Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

3 thoughts on “The Celebration (Festen)

  1. Delicious is the right word here. The attempt at keeping the party going in the face of the terrible accusations being thrown around is just amazing.
    Try go to a Danish party, stand up and say you have prepared two speaches and everybody will fall down from their chairs laughing.

  2. This wasn’t the first Dogme film I saw; that turned out to be Mifune. It was after watching that movie that I learned about this stuff, which then led to me searching out this film (Festen). The problem is, I spent so much time paying attention to the camera, lighting, music, etc. in Festen that it detracted from the movie. And the movie has a great story in it. I actually think this would have been a better film if it had been shot conventionally because then there would have not been any tricks to distract from the story. The Dogme 95 movement went away for a few reasons and this was one of the key ones.

    • That’s kinda oxymoronic, that the lack of cinema tricks and effects that formed the basis of the Dogme movement would in and of itself come off as a trick. But yeah, Dogme 95 was so stringent and limiting that it was only natural for directors to forsake it in favor of still playing with their toys; not that it was misguided, but like you said, it can detract from the movie occasionally.

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