The Guardian November 17, 1999


Film Review by Bronwyn Griffiths:
Festen

"You are cordially invited to celebrate the 60th birthday of the head of 
the Klingerfeldt family." And so, in a seemingly conventional style, 
Festen (The Celebration), from Denmark, unfolds at the peak moment 
of a family dealing with a problem which they have left unacknowledged for 
far too long.

However, this film is unable to follow any traditional storyline due to its 
intense realism  it makes you laugh at its familiarity which eventually 
makes you uncomfortable because it completely confronts you.

Director Thomas Vinterberg takes the classic ideal of a modern bourgeois 
family, and makes them accessibly human.

The (supposedly) indestructible patriarch; his society wife with the 
amazing ability to calmly smile through absolute crisis and turn a blind 
eye to practically anything; and their assortment of children whose 
individually problematic lives have been spawned from the secret shame in 
question.

They are wealthy, attractive and strong and seem bound in their pursuit of 
survival despite a past which refuses to leave them alone.

As we usually discover, nobody has their life all together, and despite 
their facade this family has its slow destruction sped up, with the climate 
of this celebration causing everything to come to a head. 

But instead of falling apart in a dramatic climax, these characters simply 
keep pulling their masks back on every time they fall off, and keep on 
forging ahead, in a way that humanity is very good at doing: people 
generally do not melt into over-emotional drama queens, but rather just 
come to terms with what has occurred and keep on going, as this film keenly 
observes.

The makers of Festen are members of Dogma, a group of Danish 
filmmakers whose manifesto is to make films in a way that goes against the 
conventional, slick Hollywood method.

The basic idea of the "Dogma" concept of this film is due to Vinterberg, 
and fellow director Lars Von Trier, abandoning the common idea of the 
aesthetic quality of the characters being more important than their 
thematic and moral qualities.

Hence the use of hand-held cameras throughout as a means of moving away 
from the surface of the film and into its heart.

This style really makes you feel like you are either a guest at this 
celebration, or are watching a successful attempt to capture the 
celebration for the family's private home video collection.

However, it can also be a little hard to deal with as the pace, along with 
the camera, often is fast, and you have in addition to simultaneously read 
the subtitles. It may not make you feel nauseous, as has been suggested 
about this style, but it could leave you with a slight headache.

There is a good reason why Festen won the Jury Special Prize at 
Canne in 1998 and there is also a good reason for its MA rating.

This film is an experience  it is hard not to be confronted by the unique 
use of issues such as sexual abuse, racism and suicide which have become 
used far too frequently in an opportunistic way in contemporary, mainstream 
film.

Festen is an experience that should not be missed.

Festen opened at Dendy cinemas on November 11.

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