Thursday, June 13, 2013


Remember the Dogme 95 movement? Remember how breathless everyone used to get in the late 90s when discussing these Scandinavian auteurs, and how they'd eschew music and non-natural light, use only hand-held cameras, film only on location and so on? What we were left with, 15-20 years later, were films that look a lot like many low-budget digital films of today, films that aren't necessarily making aesthetic choices in looking shabby and uncouth but are just, you know, that way. We were also left with some of my favorite movies of that era; most notably the films of Lars Von Trier and Susanne Bier. One film - Thomas Vinterberg's "THE CELEBRATION" - lords above all the Dogme 95 films, and happens to be one of my favorites of all time. Not only was it the first in this series of films, it's also the most cringe-inducing, skin-crawling family drama of all time, with enough tense and difficult moments to fill thirty psychotherapy offices. I'd like to "celebrate" if for you a bit here, if I may.

I recently re-watched "The Celebration" - "Festen" in its native Denmark - ironically while on a plane coming back from a trip to Scandinavia myself (Norway in this instance). It did not cease to spin my head around. I had to shade my screen a little during the "lovemaking" scene, and some of the on-screen violence and tension probably caused a little eyebrow-raising amongst my seatmates, but one glance around our widebody plane and it was clear that most everyone who were watching movies were self-lobotomizing with "The Fast and The Furious" and various variants anyway. 

Anyway, time has not blunted the impact of the carefully unfolding revelations within "The Celebration". The film concerns a obvious-from-the-bat dysfunctional family who have gathered in the Danish countryside at a mansion-like summer home to celebrate the patriarch's 60th birthday. There are 4 siblings; one is glamorous rebel Helene (played by the wonderfully-named Paprika Steen) who brings an African-American boyfriend to the party; another is a hotheaded idiot loser named Michael, absolutely desperate for his Dad's approval; another is the inward-looking, withdrawn Christian; and the fourth is Christian's twin sister Linda, who recently killed herself in the bathtub in that very house, and whose death casts a pall over the celebration.

It's Christian who becomes the centerpiece of the weird, oddly funny machinations between these messed-up people who are trying to have an upper-class "party" with dozens of family friends and relatives. He drops the bombshell in a "toast" to his father at dinner that he and his twin sister were repeatedly raped as children by their father, with their mother's full knowledge. You are free to imagine the repercussions of this "toast", if you have yet to see the film, and you'd be right. In the hands of a clunky filmmaker, this scenario and set-up could have just been played as a shocker and come off as clumsy, but Vinterberg was not that guy. He makes it so dark and yet so funny that you're not sure if you're laughing because you're totally creeped out or if what you just saw was so farcically hilarious.

Rent it if this at all piques your interest. It's definitely one of the greats in my book.