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This family would need a lot of help just to be dysfunctional.
Dr. Don-226 May 1999
First of all, the home video camera style, casting and editing perfectly suited the subject matter and script. Wealthy and overbearing patriarch is feted on the occasion of his 60th birthday -- extended family and hangers-on gather with some of the best and worst aspects of our culture on display. It's also a rather sad occasion, as one of daddy's daughters killed herself not long ago, but several guests mention how "nice" the funeral was, and which room is mine? Eldest son rises to give a toast to the old man -- and out comes some unpleasantness that people would either prefer to pretend they didn't hear, or stuff forcefully back down his throat. Then the fun really starts.

Thanks to the cast for acting with restraint -- and being believable.

Some very black humour (including pathetic scenes of the decadent bourgeoisie at play), none of it gratuitous, some of it damning, some just outrageously funny. But this is not a light film in any sense. Guess what really happens when the victimised family member tells the truth? Ouch! What about when mommy gets to choose between husband and child? Double ouch!! And finally, when victim asks dad why he did it -- well, prepare for the blow to the old solar plexus...

Trust me, I know. This is how it really happens. It's good to see a well-crafted film (that gives its human themes paramount importance) on this subject. I'm tired of watching films which try to make me feel sorry for rich kids whose parents just don't understand how hard it is to be a rich kid with pimples.

As the families (one in ten?) with histories like this one can attest, being "dysfunctional" would have been a very happy place to be, compared to the reality as shown in this fine film.
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A highly creative piece of film-making
TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews10 July 2005
I have seen this film more than I've bothered to keep track of. That's not to say that I've seen it an unusual amount of times(it's probably not more than three), just that I've never bothered to keep track. Anyway, my point is, every time, it's like seeing it for the first time. I keep discovering things that I must have noticed before, but don't remember seeing earlier. Tonight, I finally realized why; I'm blocking them out. I'm blocking out almost every single second of this film, and here's why; it reminds me of everything I hate about Denmark and being Danish. Everything strangers automatically associate me with, because I'm Danish. Not only does it remind me of it, the film flaunts it, without ever even considering holding back. The way we drink, how superficial we are, how dependent the typical grown male is of women, how racist and ignorant we are... everything. The film effectively airs our dirty laundry to the audience. On this latest viewing, I actually couldn't stand sitting through(a self-contradiction, I know) more than the first half hour... after which I casually followed the rest whilst sitting at my computer, from where I can see the TV screen... when I bother to stretch, so the computer monitor isn't blocking the view. Needless to say, I didn't catch an awful lot of it this way... but what I got was more than enough to disgust me. I can't think of any other movie I have this kind of relationship with... and I know why. I also know why this film has such an impact on me. It's because it's real. True. This is the kind of stuff you don't find in fiction... but in the newspaper, in your own family, in your own people, wherever you're from... the ugly side of us all. The shadow side. What we keep hidden from the outside world, but what we ultimately succumb to if we don't indulge it every once in a while. I chose to center my review for this film around this, because I think it's what really stands out about it. Also, I think we all, by now, know how great the acting, writing and direction is. And, being a Dogme film, it's very creatively filmed, too. So there you have it. A very creative film that puts so much focus on the shadow side of us all, of Danes in particular that is so effective that it actually makes me sick, me, a person who's been watching violent movies since I was twelve and was hardly ever affected by it. I recommend this to anyone who believe they can take it. Definitely not for the faint of heart or very sensitive people. Most people will probably have as strong a negative reaction to this as I did(unless they're far more grounded and at peace with who they are than I am), but don't let that deter you from seeing it. Chances are, you'll love it. If nothing else, you can't claim that it was fake or untrue. 10/10
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If you haven't seen this... go right now!
headfulofghosts12622 August 2002
A film so involving that a score, proper editing, and lighting are hardly missed. You are experiencing this world first hand... and what a screwed up, wonderful journey it is. I can't even begin to go into the story because it would be a crime. You have to see this for yourself. Don't be disuaded by the subtitles or strange look of the movie. Let it run for fifteen minutes and you'll be hooked. This is a powerful, powerful little movie. Guranteed to stay with you days after you've seen it. Do yourself a huge favor and rent this movie asap. If you're fed up with the cookie cutter Hollywood garbage this will be most refreshing.
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There's Something Rotten in the State of Denmark...
Benedict_Cumberbatch26 July 2006
"Festen" aka "The Celebration" was the impressive directorial debut of the young Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg ("It's All About Love", "Dear Wendy"), and the first film made according to the rules of the daring Dogme 95 movement. It shows that you don't need big budgets to make a great film. However, Dogme wouldn't work if its films weren't as daring as its ideals of film-making - and "Festen" proved that those guys really have much to say.

"Festen" is an extremely cruel film, and it's somewhat uneasy to watch in some moments. The celebration of the title refers to the 60th birthday of Helge Klingenfeldt-Hansen (Henning Moritzen), who entertains his big family in his castle. But Helge's son, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen, excellent), whose twin sister recently committed suicide, has an important revelation that will surprise - and displease - many people; in the meantime, other secrets are revealed and nobody will get away clean. "Festen" deserved all praise/awards it got in international festivals (it won the Jury Prize at Cannes 98) and is a great introduction to Danish cinema. My vote is 10/10.
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A knockout!
teichinri12 May 2006
So many critics seem to have missed the point of "The Celebration," which is almost unbelievable because it actually does have a point, and I feel like I got it between the eyes with a sledgehammer. This is a movie about, among other things, the power of social conventions, how we depend on them to deal with unpleasantness, and just how stubborn and difficult they can be to circumvent, even when your life depends on it.

What knocks me out is how much I'm convinced by the whole thing. Every sad detail makes perfect sense. There is so much wisdom here that it never overreaches, no matter how deep in the storytellers get.

In particular, the medium of digital video is used in an outstanding way that adds authenticity to the experience. Think about it- most of the hand-held video work we've seen is of our own family events. When we watch the only scene in which Christian weeps, with Gbatokai leaning over and giving moral support, it could almost pass for a candid moment in a homemade documentary.

I've seen a lot of good family dramas, but rarely have I had such an urge to hug the main character and unleash profanity at several of the others.
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Provocative dialogue ensures rapt attention
raymond-1520 March 2003
Vinterberg's "Festen" which follows the strict guidelines of Dogma 95 could perhaps be hampered in its artistic approach, but not so here. Indeed with the hand-held camera the reality of the scene is intensified to such an extent one feels an integral part of the drama.

It's a family celebration of father Helge's 60th birthday. It's strange though that all the guests seem to arrive at the same time, speeding up the driveway in great excitement. There is lots of noise. hugs and kisses and the camera intruding in a mischievous way.

This family has some terrible dark secrets known to some, not to all. They are divulged by the eldest son Christian (Ulrich Thomson) in his dinner speech toasting his father. This is a wonderful scene, tense, sharp, riveting. The guests are shaken to the core. Is he telling the truth or is he having a wicked game with the assembled company? It's great stuff - really compelling drama.

The history of the family can be pieced together from information revealed in a series of toasts, but Christian's contribution renders the party speechless. It's a fairly noisy film with lots of people talking together, having arguments (Christian's brother Michael {Thomas Bo} has an uncontrollable temper) or screaming in frustration. These out bursts contrast so well with the scenes of stunned silence. They are quite electrifying moments - no words are necessary.

Films like this one make movie-watching well worthwhile. No wonder it won a Jury Prize.
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#MeToo during the patriarch's birthday
FrenchEddieFelson1 June 2019
This surprise success based on an uncomfortable subject has become an essential reference adapted for theater in many countries. The film immediately gives the impression of having been filmed with a dysfunctional iPhone of the 70s suffering from a perfectible autofocus. This is certainly the expression of Dogme 95, a manifesto of a strong desire of the directors Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier to move away from a cinematographic world they consider too licked, too clean, too artificial, returning to a sobriety more expressive, more original, more formal, with an excessive despoilment of any aesthetic ambition. This impression will last until the last minute. After this rather negative observation, the film is excellent: between the dialogues, the acting and the unfolding of the story, it keeps you out of breath and you will wait for the epilogue with an unbearable impatience. A must see!
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God bless the Dogme 95!
Artêmis7 May 2000
I always wanted to watch "Festen" since I knew about the Dogme 95. As any Danish movie, it was released in a unique cultural theater. And, as most of the European movies, in less than 3 weeks, it wasn't...

OK, you'll tell the truth: I don't know why but I didn't watch it on a theater, and I could have done it. I waited for its release in video but all the times I went to the videostore I forgot to rent it. But one year after the release on theaters, it was rolling in Eurochannel (a cable-TV channel. It's all about Europe). I couldn't miss that chance so, on a Friday night, at 22:00, I finally watched it. And what an AMAZING film!!!

At first, the plot seems interesting and simple but after 20 minutes you finally realize how strong and provocative Festen really is. It's about one celebration made by the patriarch of the family Kingenfelt in the hotel where he lives. He's commemorating his 60 years. Christian, the older son, makes a speech where secrets are revealed.

The rules of the Dogme 95 as the use of natural light, camera in the hands, etc, help to create a claustrophobic and confidential clime, like nobody knows that someone is filming them. The scenes look incredibly real. Paprika Steen (Helene) and Ulrich Thomsen (Christian) were more than extraordinary. Paprika is a great actress and I can't stand waiting to watch "Idiotern", the second Dogme, in which she's acting again.

"Festen" is not just a worth watching film. It's a worth watching, re-watching, watching again, renting many times and recording to watch it a hundred times. Being the first Dogme, it's a mark in the cinema's history.

Grade - A+
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Fall into it.
rallero8 February 2003
I'll say 2 things about this movie.

1. This is a danish movie. A danish philosopher known to numerous people, Søren Kierkegaard, talked about emotional contra intellectual. This is a movie you should experience with your feelings, not your brain, turned on. If you do this, you'll smile and cry.

2. The acting is fantastic. It's so realistic, but still "wild" enough to keep you to the screen.

Can't help it, need to give it 10/10. It's not at great MOVIE, but it's a truely great EXPERIENCE. And as far as I'm considered, we're watching movies because we like to experience?

I've never fell into a movie like i fell into this one.
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10 out of 10
Near_Dark5 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I think Festen is a fantastic movie. Personally I do not care at all about Dogma rules. Since I had similar childhood experiences, I only care about the story, and to me this is definitely the best movie dealing with the subject of incest I have seen yet. I was suffering with Christian when he finally opened up to his family. It was very moving to see him struggling desperately to make them listen to him despite their violent resistance. And it was a very good feeling to see him succeed in the end. All in all I saw a very touching movie with lots of overwhelming emotions for me.

This movie is special because it shows that the suffering does not end when the children grow up and leave home. And it shows why it is so hard for victims to talk about their experiences by expressing one of their biggest (and unfortunately very realistic) fears: That noone will believe them, and that even their family will refuse to listen to them because they don´t want their illusion of a happy family to be destroyed.
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Just see it. Please see it.
GiraffeDoor30 April 2019
Few movie are as uncomfortable to watch as this.

It feels sort of like a home movie but handles it a lot more naturalistically, yet somehow more creatively, than a lot of contemporary found footage.

Soap operas have nothing on this, limited resources come together into a perfectly crafted story of the things you only think happen to other people happening to you.
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A barbecue for Danish family values
Philby-311 December 1999
Having read about the film makers' "Dogme 95" charter I was expecting something pretty bizarre here but "Festen" (festival, celebration) co-written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg turned out to be the fairly orthodox tale of a traumatic family reunion. The only oddball feature, which added nothing to the dramatic impact, was the deliberately coarse film quality, achieved, it seems, by using a digital video camera. Perhaps "no artistic egos were destroyed in the making of this film" but the impression I got was that somebody competent was in charge, albeit somebody with a taste for odd camera angles.

The story centres around Christian, who travels back to the family country hotel (in Denmark) from his successful Paris restaurant to celebrate his father's 60th birthday. We soon discover the family are a pretty gross lot. There's a nymphomaniac sister, a violent, overbearing younger brother, and a twin sister who has committed suicide. Father is a burly dirty-minded bully with a short fuse "protected" by his elegant but cowed wife. Naturally a family like this has enough dirty linen to fill the hotel laundry which they proceed to reveal in the course of the evening in front of twenty or thirty guests, who, just in case they were thinking of leaving, have had their car keys hidden from them. Complicit in all of this are the long-suffering hotel staff, who can't see it happening to a more deserving bunch of people.

It's a bit difficult to say much about the acting - not understanding Danish is a bit of a barrier- let alone Danish mores. Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) is played as the still centre - we find out about him from what others say- yet he holds our attention throughout. Thomas Bo Larsen as Michael the obnoxious younger brother puts in a full-blooded manic performance and Paprika Steen as their sister Helena gave her role plenty of depth. The father (Henning Moritzen) was a bit two-dimensional - not enough charm to offset his basic nastiness. Among the minor players, I particularly liked Lars Brygman as Lars, the reception clerk, who never loses his (somewhat stunned) composure even as he is lying fully clothed in a bathtub at the behest of Helena looking for ghosts in the ceiling. I also liked Helmuth (Klaus Bondam), the Danish idea of the comic German toastmaster, who after some particularly shocking revelations at the dinner table manages to suggest dessert, coffee and dancing in the lounge - and the stunned guests meekly comply.

There were hints of Bunuel in this movie ("there's nothing charming about the bourgeiose") and perhaps "Last Year in Marienbad." The spirit of Ingmar Bergman was not far away either. The hotel itself, near Stockholm, according to the rather wavery credits, had a pretentious overstuffed, claustrophobic atmosphere that seemed quite appropriate.

Well. I don't know if Dogme 95 has anything new to say about film-making, but this was a watchable story. I think, however, anyone coming from a family like that would avoid reunions at all costs, even if seeking revenge.
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FESTEN "Celebration" is the Danish Dessert for THE DAMNED, 1963
Peter220603 October 2007
Thirty five years after THE DAMNED, the Danes produced Festen. Family secrets shared with a cinema audience are more powerful today, because of the freedoms permitted to the movie producers. I believe you should watch THE DAMNED first, and then you will be in the mood for FESTEN. I have given this film a ten because I remember THE DAMNED and can appreciate the two films and their impact. Both films celebrate birthdays. Both films exploit sexual activity within the family. THE DAMNED is set in early Nazi Germany so there is some political variations that are not included in the FESTEN. I'm sure watching the two films will add commentary to the web site.
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you have never seen something like this before!
guy_anisimov27 January 2007
there are some good films you decide to give a second watch and you feel as if it was a waste cause even though its a good movie the second viewing didn't add too much.

there are films that you can watch over and over again and you will never feel as if it was a waste or anything close to it.

i watched 'festen' for the first time a couple of days ago and the second it finished i knew i wanna watch this again, and so i did the day after. the second time was amazing, so many details have showed up that i have missed in the first time i watched it and it just made me like it much more and perhaps even made it to one of those i could watch over and over again.

if i would be asked to describe this film in one word i'll must use 'uniqe'. basically because of it being the first and the only 'dogme 95' film i have watched but also because of the amazing script and powerful acting.

check it out, you wont regret it!
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A chaste masterpiece
david-bond-224 January 2007
Festen is I think a film of genius. Theer is plenty of reason to regret, when one looks at films like Idioterne and Festen, that neither Von Trier nor Vinterberg have since adhered even to the spirit let alone to the letter of Dogma 95 (now officially withdrawn). Von Trier has gone on to be a highly successful Hollywood director, Vinterberg to be an unsuccessful one, but nothing either has done has the power and conviction of these Dogma 95 films. The hand-held cinematography is disconcerting, as is the use only of natural light as the shadows lengthen but the disconcertment is in complete rhythm with the theme and development of the film itself. I do not wish this to be a spoiler, but even the coyest synopsis gives away the 'surprise' and it does not matter in he least because it is the treatment of the subject rather than subject itself that really surprises. It is a film that pulls no punches,that cuts into its subject and turns the knife as far as it will go but which (in conformity with the 'vow of chastity' of Dogma 95) contains nothing gratuitous, nothing prurient, no ultra-violence, no falsely-sustained drama, no phoney climax nor shock denouement. Yet all these things (without the vow) might have been seen as 'natural' accompaniments of the theme. In this way the film poses extremely important questions about film and about our conditioned expectations of film quite as much as the questions it poses about society and family relationships. The film remains true to itself and true to its theme from beginning to end. It neither seeks to concoct a happy ending nor a tragic conclusion but achieves a real effect of catharsis all the same. At times it is also appallingly but always appalling. Devoid of sentimentality, it nevertheless achieves a remarkable quality of empathy with all the characters it portrays (the standard of playing being universally excellent). It is a film whose importance will I believe increase with time and which will come to regard as one of the finest of its decade and one of the very best films of the late twentieth century.
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A film set in Denmark that outhamlets HAMLET.
ram-3019 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
FESTEN, aka THE CELEBRATION, has many eerie similarities to William Shakespeare's play HAMLET. The most obvious similarity is both are set in Denmark. More specifically, both are set in the elegant residence of an unappealing patriarch who, as the story begins, is celebrating a milestone accomplishment. Both FESTEN and HAMLET have a disturbed youth returning from another European country to attempt being cordial to his detestable parent. To make the parallel stronger, the actor who plays Christian in FESTEN bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Laurence Olivier. In the play, Christian laments the untimely death of a dear female friend, much the same as Hamlet laments Ophelia. Of course, both protagonists have a deep secret that they must reveal about their detestable parent and feigning insanity may be in the plans. Hamlet and Christian both are disappointed in their mother who seems to also know her husband's secret but offers to support him rather than her disturbed son. These similarities in no way detract from the impact of FESTEN. In a way, they elevate its worth in my opinion.
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The #1 Dogme movie - and still the greatest!
UlrikSander13 March 2006
Danish Thomas Vinterberg's FESTEN from 1998 is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the greatest movie of the The Danish New Wave which began in the 90's with Ole Bornedal's cynical thriller NATTEVAGTEN from 1994, and sadly is on the verge of ending now (2007) - ironically again with Bornedal as a front-runner. However FESTEN remains a remarkable testament to a time in Danish cinema history where directors managed to bridge the gap between art and mainstream, at first in the early 90's by reaching the audiences in eye-hight with movies that had a realistic feeling to them, and then in the late 90's with the Dogme95 movement that gained Danish cinema a success it hadn't experienced since the silent-movie era of Carl Theodor Dreyer and Benjamin Christensen. Thomas Vinterberg was/is a member of the Dogme95 brotherhood created by Lars von Trier, and FESTEN was the first movie directed under the 10 rules of the Dogme95 manifesto, which provocateur Ole Bornedal recently dubbed nothing but "a smart producer trick" in the Danish movie magazine Ekko.

FESTEN is a so-called docu-drama that deals with the consequences of incest, family secrets, family relations, and family rituals. It depicts the Danish mentality by putting the Danish upper-class family Klingenfeldt on display. There happens so much between the lines in the Klingenfeldt family. The consequences of the family father Helge's (Henning Moritzen) incestuous cruelties to his four children in the past are obvious: the sister (Lene Laub Oksen) has recently committed suicide, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) has a strained relationship to the women of his life, Helene (so-called Dogme-queen Paprika Steen) is a paradoxical upper-class eccentric hippie-type who smokes weed, and little-brother Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) is a violent screw-up who won't acknowledge the truth about his father. However Helge is never portrayed as an arch-typical villain. He is brilliantly portrayed by Henning Moritzen as a realistic three-dimensional character. In FESTEN everyone is pretentious and cool on the surface, but the pain and secrets of these characters shines through the social hypocrisy constantly - therefore it's more a story about the unspoken than the spoken.

When the guests arrive at Helge's 60th birthday celebration party, Helge and his wife (Birthe Neumann), the two sons and the remaining daughter welcome them at the entrance. We hear how everything said is excruciatingly superficial and stupid. The words, the hand-shakes and the hugs don't mean anything. Don't they have anything substantial to say to each other? In another scene Christian exposes the family secret in his first speech, however the dinner guests just ignore it, and keep going on, as if nothing has happened. It takes Christian three more speeches, and one from Helene reading aloud the suicide letter from her sister, before the truth is acknowledged. It's shocking to see the guests sit there and do nothing! This is the typical Danish mentality: nobody wants to interfere - everybody minds their own business. Helge confronts Christian merely to manipulate him into thinking he is insane! In a third scene scene the social misfit Michael makes the dinner guests, unaware of their wrong-doing, sing aloud the old seemingly innocent, however really underneath racist Danish song 'Jeg har set en rigtig negermand' in order to provoke Helene and her African-American boyfriend Gbatokai (Gbatokai Dakinah). This scene implicates Michael's insecurity and displays Danish racism at its worst. There are many more scenes worth high-lighting, but these three are great examples.

Everything works in FESTEN: the fully-developed three-dimensional characters, the acting, the innovative hand-held Dogme95 camera style, Vinterberg's and Mogens Rukov's manuscript. Many has hypothetically tried posing the question: what did the Dogme95 rules do for FESTEN that it couldn't have done without? I say everything. One has to realize that everything that worked so beautifully in this gem was worked out on basis of the (paradoxically liberating) limitations of the manifesto. Every decision from the manuscript (real locations, genre-movies not allowed etc.) to the acting is made on the basis of Dogme95. If stylish camera and lighting setups were a possibility the harsh realism and fly-on-the-wall-feeling of it wouldn't have been achieved, and it wouldn't have been the same movie. As Lars von Trier put it: "Limitations are liberating" meaning that complete freedom leaves one with too many options, so creating rules is just a way of setting up the playground.

I have a particular fondness for this movie. FESTEN along with the second and third Dogme95 movies, Lars von Trier's IDIOTERNE from 1998 and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's MIFUNES SIDSTE SANG from 1999 introduced me to a more intelligent and interesting way to approach movie-watching. FESTEN has an arty feeling to it. Apparently the time was just right for such a movie, but as aforementioned it managed to bridge the gap between art and mainstream. It's a dark, funny, and intelligent movie. Perhaps the humor made it so easy to swallow for audiences world-wide in spite of the arty hand-held camera-style and raw realism. What surprises me to this day is its international success, because the tone of the movie is Danish (I would think). Perhaps the social hypocrisy portrayed in FESTEN, which feels so Danish, is in fact a world-wide phenomenon. Watch this! 10/10
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A different kind of film
rbverhoef11 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The first film following the Dogme-rules is Thomas Vinterberg's 'Festen'. He and famous director Lars von Trier, who's 'Idioterne' is the second Dogme-film, want to attack the "auteurs theory" that claims that only one person, the director, is really responsible for the finished product. Vinterberg and Von Trier try to show that this does not make any sense. In a way they show us, but while doing that they also create a certain style that seems to distinguish their work, especially Von Trier's, making it really the work of a certain director. Therefore it also proves the auteur theory is true in a way.

Back to 'Festen', not only the first but arguably the best from the Dogme-films. It tells the story of a family coming together for the 60th birthday of Helge (Henning Moritzen). We learn to know other members of the family. We also learn one of his daughters, part of twins, recently killed herself. Then, at dinner, the oldest son and other part of twins Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), announces he and his sister were sexually abused by their father. At first people think it is a bad joke but do not really respond, but when he announces the same thing again the guests do not think it is funny anymore. Especially the other son Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), an aggressive man with apparently not a pleasant passed, gets really mad trying to keep Christian away from the party. How this develops is for you to see.

The story is interesting and almost unbelievable at the same time. I was pretty surprised at times. The material is pretty heavy and the style, according to Dogme-regulation, adds to that atmosphere. Since the camera is always moving, it is hand-held, and since no filters and artificial light are used the film gets a raw and gritty look. Those effects seem to tell a viewer things are not as they should. It works the same way for Von Trier's heavy material in 'Breaking the Waves' and 'Dancer in the Dark'. What also works for 'Festen' are the performances. I almost would not call them performances, it really feels like your watching a home video made by one of the guests, recording events of real people.

'Festen' is different from other films, in a good way that is.
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A powerful and effectively well made film
Afracious1 April 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Having already seen The Idiots I was looking forward to watching this other film from the Dogme stable. It has similarities. It deals with a controversial subject in child abuse, and looks and sounds similar. The film is set in a huge house, where there is a family gathering to celebrate the father's sixtieth birthday. His children he has not seen for a long time start to arrive, along with other relatives. The first one we see is Christian, his eldest son, a quiet but troubled man. He is walking down a desolate road on his way to the house, and is passed by a car with his younger brother Michael, his wife, and three children in it. The car stops and they greet each other, then Michael throws his wife and kids out and tells them to walk the rest of the way. This is our first glimpse at Michael's crudeness. He turns out to be a bigoted ruffian. The other main character is their sister Helene, who has a coloured boyfriend. This causes problems later when he arrives, and he is racially insulted by Michael, who also conducts a racist song by all the guests. There is always a troubling menace underneath the surface of this film. The scene where Christian gives his first speech sets the tone of the film, and leaves us to ponder. We also learn another sister committed suicide, and left a revealing note, which Helene reads out late in the film. It is always fascinating to watch. Very powerful stuff once again from the Dogme stable. It certainly has its unique and effective style, and always keeps the viewer watching. Superb film making.
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Think of it as a bad bootleg of a poorly writen play
redrobot17 September 1999
Although I know most people who see this movie won't experience the displeasure of listening to the terribly pretentious director bragging about how it only took 2 weeks it took him to write this movie, but I'm sure for most people the lack of attention to detail will be evident in the final product. The most annoying part of the dogma 95 trend is that with the minute amount of talent, time and money required to make these films the growing number of directors involved in this trend could put out another one of their "home movies" every week. And with all the money they save is that they can fly to all the screening and explain to you why putting 10% effort into their work is art. I would like to suggest one amendment to the dogma95 doctrine: the problem with only using ambient lighting is, as the day gets darker a $800 video camera can't adjust like our eyes can in the real world. The result as the day progresses the film quality gets worse, not exactly a natural effect if you've ever been anywhere at night. Maybe all the d95 directors could get the actors to bring a few lights from home and set them up themselves, then the directors wouldn't have to lift a finger, or spend a penny. That way the actors wouldn't finds the lights intrusive because they've seen them before in their own house. Just a suggestion.
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The changing power of truth
patryk-czekaj29 November 2012
The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg's most astounding creation to date, is as realistic as it is confusing. Ironically, it's sometimes relatively easy to mistake a deeply dramatic scene for a comedic one. This is a sharp and somehow disturbing tragicomedy that reveals the transformative power of truth, showing how a seemingly ordinary birthday party can change into an acute contest filled with accusations and revelations. After a rough and intense night no one is left unharmed, and the characters subconsciously know that even before they start to delve into the past.

A cultivated and wealthy patriarch Helge (Henning Moritzen) is having a huge, luxurious 60th birthday party, and the whole family is invited. In the group there are three of his children: Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), a chronic and irascible boozer, Helene (Paprika Steen), an anxious and depressed anthropologist, and Christian (Henning Moritzen), a withdrawn and angry restaurateur, whose twin sister recently committed suicide, among other guests. Before the party even starts, the intimacy of the main characters is exposed, as they plunge deeper into the state of irrepressible existential angst with their peculiar pre-party 'preparations'. When the family gathers for a sit-down with the man of the night, a huge feasts begins and toasts are about to be made. As of then, nobody even expects that Christian is about the make a shocking Speech of Truth, one that will change the course of the whole evening, destroy the relations between the relatives, and ultimately cause a hell of a farce. By accusing his father of sexual abuse when he and his loving sister were little (additionally pointing out that his father is the true killer behind the sister's suicide), Christian only encourages others to expose their true feelings. What began as a celebration of one happy man's birthday turned into a violent, alcohol and hate-filled showcase of the most shocking kind. The gradual loss of innocence (though it's all right to assume that such a disturbing even took place before) is properly 'enriched' with a Dutch racist song, a few fights, a few bottles of wine, and a late-night dance that is supposed to smooth the whole repugnant situation. It's only surprising to observe as all the relatives eat breakfast the next morning in the exact same place, looking into each other's eyes without any apparent regret.

Indisputably, The Celebration is Vinterberg's visionary approach to a family-in-shambles. As in every other Dogme 95 picture, the realism of the whole story is enhanced through on-location shooting, natural sounds, hand-held cameras, and no additional effects whatsoever. Even though it's hard no to laugh at times, the devastating power of this film is as harrowing as the main characters are cold-blooded and self-contained.
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Devastating indictment of the human condition
clare-karu20 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Festen is utterly essential viewing. Simply masterful in its construction; heart rending, intellectually engaging and original. What comment does it make? That the rituals of civility can mask the worst barbarity and that justice and truth can be dismissed as madness or foolishness or conceit if it convenient to do so. And that most of us take sides according to how it advantages us. So many of us are only interested in what serves our vanity. So very few of us stand up for truth. Often those that do are ridiculed or seen as unseemly; outsiders and disadvantageous.

Its a devastating indictment of the human condition as one of brute competition and powerplay. There are only two methods of salvation from this. Heroism and love. The eldest son gains his heroic strength throughout the film through a series of humiliations, as well as physical and mental battles. The remaining daughter, from the love she has for her family, and the trust she places in her socially rejected but utterly beautiful guiding light of a boyfriend finds her way through puzzles, confusion and doubt toward the truth.

The ambiguity of the smaller roles fill the film out with a Shakespearean richness. The wife of the younger brother - cowed victim or shabby harridan? The singing grandma - oblivious and dotty or sinister and affected? The depressed uncle - self-involved joke or victim of circumstance? It is the ambiguity of these characters that reinforce the tension of the main plot. Did the father or didn't he? Is the son an insane troublemaker or an avenging hero?

And lets not forget the chorus of the waiting staff - guiding us through the evening, none except the chef (a conductor of sorts) quite sure where the evening is going.

This film is a spoken opera. Huge and magnificent and unforgettable; this is the best of the Dogme 95 films.
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Reality TV? Reality Check!
micaelamorrissette-129 March 2006
If only one film could be used to argue that courageous and innovative film-making could be used in the service of electrifying and spellbinding entertainment, Celebration would do the trick. Thomas Vinterberg's heinously underhyped film engages in the usual paradox of the Dogme film: that is, by using hand-held cameras, producing sound and picture together, eschewing studio lighting, costuming, music, and in many other ways attempting to strip away the apparatus of artificiality that purportedly stands between a film and its audience, the Dogme films in fact call attention to their own filmic-ness, simply by being outside the parameters that our eyes and ears have been accustomed to translating into a sense of naturalness. No matter how much a Dogme film may actually be akin to the way in which we perceive and experience the immediate physical world, it is the Hollywood style of picture that we are accustomed to process as reality. Certainly Dogme is not the only movement in any medium to have confronted the fact that in art, naturalism is achieved through artifice, while nature reads as artificial. But while the visual presentation of Celebration emphasizes precisely that awareness of the camera it attempts (or pretends to attempt) to negate, this is not what we generally understand as an art film.

In a sense, the continuum along which we measure narrative or feature films and experimental or art films is like the continuum on which we situate contemporary fiction and poetry. Both call into play a means (picture and sound, or language) and an end (story, content, argument). Narrative films and fiction tend to employ the means to the end, as is conventional; experimental film or contemporary poetry tend to emphasize the means over the end, or to place the means in the limelight with the end. Naturally, as on any good continuum, there is a middle area where intersection occurs. In Celebration, however, it is the audience who, as a result of its training, emphasizes the means and pays attention to the camera work and other details of the production which the director believes or claims to believe are invisible, or indistinguishable from reality, the lived experience. Celebration gives the story all the attention it deserves, and the plot is the stuff of the most satisfying melodrama.

Two twins, one dead by her own hand with rumors of unspeakabilities. A fetching and honest maidservant. A drunken and outrageous brother. A shocking interracial affair! An enduring upstairs-downstairs friendship. Mysterious signs scribbled on the wall, allegations of scandal, rough fondlings, physical violence of every ilk, and the very best wine flowing freely. If it weren't for the extraordinary sensitivity of the actors and their reluctance to roughhouse their parts (which no doubt arises in part from the characters' own reluctance to come to grips with an increasingly unavoidable truth), this would be soap opera at its lurid best. Ulrich Thomsen in the lead role as Christian is stupendous: befuddledly determined, shyly grim, politely and stiffly the right arm of vengeance. Paprika Steen as his sister Helene is another stand-out: weary, blowsy, smoking endless cigarettes with a particular suck-and-exhale technique that gives an instantaneous and tangible knowledge of the dry stickiness of her tongue and the roof of her mouth. She staggers between the moral extremes of hypocrisy and loyalty like a sloppy drunk. And Klaus Bondam, playing the toastmaster at the family reunion, is also impeccable as he doggedly and unthinkably continues with dignified mindlessness to plow through the conventions of the evening in the face of a total familial apocalypse.

Celebration, then, is the best kind of old-fashioned entertainment. The manner in which the film is produced may seem artificial in its departure from mainstream techniques, but it is paradoxical not only in the sense that in employing the techniques of naturalism it produces an effect of artificiality. The second paradox of Vinterberg's interpretation of the doctrine of Dogme lies in the fact that this sense of unnaturalness in no way excludes a simultaneous sense of shocking intimacy and immediacy. Close-ups of mouths and eyes twitching, fingers tapping, the quick sounds of glasses clicking and footsteps on dry dirt or leaves, the jolts and trembles of the cameras in the hands of the actors: all these combine to give a dizzying and almost sickening sense of being trapped inside the film, something almost akin to the IMAX experience from which this, at any technical level, could not be more removed.

These techniques have parallels in more mainstream cinema, of course. The Blair Witch Project is one example. But while that film was understood to be reality and unmasked as fiction, Celebration is exactly the reverse: the real wolf in sheep's clothing.
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