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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Celebration (Festen)

A searing look at hidden family secrets

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 2, 1999 -- "The Celebration" is a very powerful film about a dirty secret hidden inside a wealthy Danish family that is exposed during the celebration of the patriarch's 60th birthday party. Although the film was obviously made on a low budget, with occasional poor image and sound quality, gut-wrenching performances and a harrowing story line provide plenty of power for this movie.

I did not recognize any of the names of the actors, but I will list then later in this review for those of you who may have seen them before. I will also provide a link to the film's web page at October Films. The film is largely in Danish with English subtitles, but there is some English in it, and one character who appears to be an American.

Part of this film's power may come from it's documentary-like feel Director Thomas Vinterberg (who is uncredited and who co-wrote the screenplay and also plays a taxi driver in the film), turns the film's low budget into a strength by using camera (or perhaps videocam) angles and techniques reminiscent of documentaries or home movies. We get the feel we are spying on these people.

The movie starts as the members of a large family gather to celebrate the birthday of the powerful Helge Klingenfeldt, owner of a large country estate. One of Helge's sons, Michael has a ferocious argument, followed by equally ferocious sex with his wife, while another son, Christian, quietly bides his time.

When it comes time for a toast at the big dinner party, with all the family present, Christian drops a bombshell, accusing his father of sexually molesting him and his dead sister, Linda. He also accuses his father of causing Linda's suicide. At first, his father, and most of those at the table almost comically try to go on with the party as if nothing has happened, but, of course, that doesn't last.

The sedate dinner party soon turns into open warfare between different members of the family. At one point Christian is removed from the house and tied to a tree. Down in the basement, the chef has plans of his own. He conspires to help Christian expose the family's dirty secret.

The results of all this uproar are both horrifying and blackly humorous as guests struggle to maintain some level of decorum in a party that has clearly gotten way out of control. There is even a racist song thrown in as racial tensions surface at the party. As the all night party winds down to its conclusion, more emotional bile comes to the surface and final emotional confrontations are made. The result is very powerful, indeed. This film rates a B+.

One of the reasons this movie was made as it was is due to the rules of a film maker's cooperative that was co-founded by Vinterberg in Copenhagen in 1995. The collective, called Dogme 95, has the following credo: It is "a rescue operation to counter certain tendencies in film today. Dogme 95 opposes the auteur concept, make-up illusions and dramaturgical predictability. Dogme 95 desires to purge film so that once again the inner lives of the characters justify the plot." Dogme 95 specifies that films must be shot on location by hand-held cameras with no post-production sounds or optical effects added. This film follows the Dogme 95 guidelines pretty closely.

The cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Christian; Henning Moritzen, Helge; Thomas Bo Larsen, Michael; Paprika Steen, Helene; Birthe Neumann, Else; Trine Dyrholm, Pia; Helle Dolleris, Mette; Therese Glahn, Michelle; Klaus Bondam, Master of Ceremonies; Bjarne Henriksen, Chef; Gbatokai Dakinah, Gbatokai; John Boas, Grandfather; Lars Brygmann, receptionist; Linda Laursen, Birthe; Lasse Lunderskov, Uncle; Lene Laub Oksen, Linda; Birgitte, Simonsen Thomas.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)