I’ll keep it short, as do these brilliant Danes. Festen aka “A Celebration” is a cinematic masterpiece. I just watched it again, 14 years after catching it in an Amsterdam cinema.
For those of you who have been hiding under a blanket of Hollywood super hero fodder, “Festen” is a character study of a fictional Danish family with some nasty secrets. The story focuses on the 60th birthday of the pater familias Helge. Son Christian, whose twin sister has recently committed suicide, has something rather different planned than a happy birthday.
Supposedly the main attraction of the film is the infamous dinner speech scene, in which Christian breaks a long silence. And to be fair, it is that visceral yet underplayed moment that I remembered most all those years after first seeing it. Ye,t on revisiting the film, I was amazed at the attention to detail, keen observation of character in the film that builds to that very moment. Indeed the groundworks laid before the great reveal carry the film forward after that moment. The greatest “trick” the film has up its sleeve is the acute observation on the sheer amount of time it takes for the truth of Christian’s speech to sink in with the revelers.
The acting is naturalistic brilliance, the film is film in an intentionally ugly, hand held style that just adds to its voyeuristic appeal. In its time much was made of the fact that the movie was shot according to self imposed “Dogma ’95” rules. Since then, Festen director Vinterberg, Lars von Trier the other Dogma founding members have admitted that Dogma was more of a gimmick that an actual serious idea.
A true masterpiece in every sense of the word. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do: it will open your eyes to European film forever.