Scenes from Thomas Vinterberg’s “Festen” [1998 Denmark, Sweden]

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Thomas Vinterberg is among the brilliant young directors to emerge from Europe over the past decade, and by some pleasant coincidence, I’m starting his filmography with a film where he isn’t even formally credited – “Festen” [Eng. Title: The Celebration], is a fine example in Dogme 95, a film movement that I’m also gradually but surely warming up to…

A family gathers to celebrate the father’s sixtieth birthday. One family member is however missing for the first time, after her recent suicide. Her twin brother Christian has been entrusted with toasting to her memory by saying a few words, and he had come prepared with two sets of speeches – one written on a yellow piece of paper, and the other on green. He offers the choice to the father, and after he picks the green one, proceeds to read a speech that reveals a truth that’s nothing short of cataclysmic. So shocking was the revelation that the gathered family members refuse to believe it and pretend to take it as a joke. And this is where the drama begins – because Christian has his work cut out to get everyone to come to terms with it and acknowledge it openly. Only then will his burden ease, only then will he be able to pick up the pieces and move on…

What struck me after watching the film was its marvellous screenplay- a situation that would conventionally call for a melodrama is astonishingly shaped into a gripping thriller. As for the characterisation, it is so wholesome that we would get to know every family member as if we’ve known them for years, and this will not all be down to the script – it is thanks to some thoughtful cinematography and superb performances by the main cast. A film concept like this requires a lot of thought, observation, and reflection. It might sound a touch odd, but simplicity is one of the hardest things to achieve. This film may have its tiny imperfections, but it is still beautiful – and they only add to its charm. In the process it stirs up a beehive by holding a mirror to a society in denial. The family portrayed could be from anywhere – traditional or modern, wealthy or otherwise, and from any part of the ‘civilised’ world – we all do have our prejudices, ostrich syndromes, and superficiality, and this film reminds us of that. Needless to say, this is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link (a good deal going here)



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